Up until a year ago, milk and cheese prices were soaring woldwide (see Cheddar – the king of cheeses at £2000 per tonne). A surging world economy and rapidly growing demand from China and India were driving up commodity prices, including milk and milk-based producs. In the UK, average farmgate prices for milk had risen from 19 pence per litre (ppl) in 2006 to 27.4ppl by October 2008 (see here for data). Since then, however, as the global economy has plunged into recession, milk prices have fallen. By September 2009, the farmgate price had fallen by over 18 per cent to around 22.4ppl. With rising costs for fuel and cattle feed, many dairy farmers are now making a loss and are either quitting, or considering quitting, the industry.
It’s a similar story in Europe, North America and other dairy producing regions of the world. In Europe “the mood is turning sour. Last week 300 tractors dragged milk containers over fields in southern Belgium, dumping a day’s worth of production (see video). Similar protests were made in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The crisis has driven many EU farmers into a ‘milk strike’, with thousands refusing to deliver to the industrial dairy conglomerates that produce everything from skimmed milk to processed cheese.”
So is this just market forces in action and will prices rise again as the world economy recovers? Or is it a reflection, in part, of the monopsony power of the supermarkets and the milk processing industry? The following articles look at the issues, both in the UK and the rest of Europe and in the USA.
Milk ‘strikes’ and shortages hit Europe as UK dairy industry reels from crisis Observer (20/9/09)
German agriculture ministers meet as European milk crisis escalates Deutsche Welle (17/9/09)
EU Milk Strike Joined by More Than 60,000 Farmers, Group Says Bloomberg (18/9/09)
EU to boost aid for dairy farms BBC News (17/9/09)
Milk: Commission proposes further measures to help dairy sector in short, medium and long term European Commission Press Release (17/9/09)
Milk output fell in August as dairies cut herds Chicago Daily Herald (19/9/09)
New England tries to save dairies The News Journal (Delaware) (20/9/09)
- For what reasons are many dairy farmers now making a loss?
- For what reasons has the power balance in the wholesale milk market shifted towards milk purchasers (such as supermarkets) and away from farmers?
- How would a phased liberalisation of EU milk production help the UK’s dairy farmers?
- Discuss the likely effectiveness of the European Commission’ proposed measures to help dairy sector in short, medium and long term.
- What is likely to happen to milk prices over the next two years and what will be the likely effect on supply? Explain your answer and consider the relevance of price elasticity of supply.
- “Agriculture officials and farmers in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have launched a program called Keep Local Farms. … Organizers say they hope to appeal to consumers’ growing taste for local foods” (see final linked article above). What determines the likely effectiveness of such ‘buy local’ movements? What incentives are there for people to buy local? If countries in general encourage people to buy local, is this a zero sum game? Explain.
The US Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has recently published a 92-page on report on childhood obesity and the use of taxes on junk foods to tackle the problem. In the report, titled Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity, “a panel of experts suggested such taxes could play an important role in helping children make healthier eating choices”.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Federal Government’s preventive health taskforce argued, amongst other things, that “junk food advertising should be phased out, the cost of cigarettes should be more than $20 a packet, and soft drinks and cask wine should be hit with higher taxes”.
So how effective are higher taxes in achieving a reduction in ill health associated with eating, drinking and smoking? If adopted, what is the socially optimum design and rates of such taxes? What other complementary policies could be adopted? The following articles consider the issues.
More support for a junk-food tax Los Angeles Times (2/9/09)
Tax junk food, drinks to fight child obesity-report Reuters (31/8/09)
Could Raising Taxes on Junk Food Curb Obesity? eMaxHealth (2/9/09)
Junk food and tobacco under fire The Age (Australia) (2/9/09)
What price health? The Australian (2/9/09)
- For what reasons does the free market fail to achieve an optimum level of consumption of junk foods, alcohol and cigarettes?
- How would you determine the socially optimum level of consumption of such products?
- How are the price, income and cross-price elasticities of demand, and the price elasticity of supply, relevant to assessing the effectiveness of taxes for reducing the consumption of unhealthy products?
- What determines the incidence of taxes on unhealthy products?
- What other policies would you advocate to tackle the problems associated with consuming unhealthy products? How would they affect the price elasticity of demand for such products.
- To what extent do the objectives of social efficiency and equity conflict when designing appropriate policies to discourage unhealthy consumption?
Tea prices have soared in recent months. Explanations can be found on both the demand and supply side. But while this might be bad news for tea drinkers, the news is more mixed for tea growers. So just what are the causes and consequences of the price rises? The following linked articles look at the issues.
Tea prices hit record high as supplies tighten Financial Times (19/8/09)
No break for Britons as tea price set to soar Scotsman (19/5/09)
Tea prices hit record high (video) BBC News (21/8/09)
Price of cup of tea goes up (video) BBC news (17/8/09)
Africa Tea Prices Climb to a Record on Dry Weather Bloomberg (20/8/09)
Kenya Tea Prices Hit Record High Before Ramadan FlexNews (19/8/09)
African tea prices ‘to extend gains’ China People’s Daily Online (18/8/09)
Sri Lanka to revive all closed tea factories ColomboPage (24/8/09)
Land usage should be flexible: Tea panel The Economic Times of India (24/8/09)
For tea price data see:
Tea Monthly Price Index Mundi
- Identify the factors on the demand and supply sides that have led to the rise in tea prices. Draw a diagram to illustrate your answer.
- Under what circumstances will farmers benefit from a rise in tea prices? What is the relevance of the market price elasticity of demand to your explanation?
- If the price of tea in the shops rises, will this necessarily mean a rise in the price to tea growers and in the wages of workers on tea plantations? Explain using concepts of competition and market power.
- What will be the effect of using more land for growing tea on (a) the price of tea and (b) the incomes of tea growers?
Many primary commodity prices have fallen during the recession, but have recovered somewhat as the recession has bottomed out and hopes of a recovery have grown. So what will happen to commodity prices over the next few months and beyond, and what will determine the size of the price changes? The following linked articles look at these questions.
Commodity prices set to rise further, Roubini says Telegraph (3/8/09)
Have oil prices peaked for 2009? Hemscott (25/8/09)
What’s Ahead for Commodities BusinessWeek (23/8/09)
Gas Prices to Triple by Winter? (video) CNBC (25/8/09)
For commodity price data see:
Commodity Price Index Monthly Price Index Mundi
- What will determine the amount by which commodity prices rise (a) over the next twelve months; (b) the next three years?
- What will determine the size of any change in the Australian dollar from rising commodity prices?
- How does the holding of stocks affect (a) the size of commodity price changes; (b) the volatility of commodity price changes?
- Under what circumstances is speculation in commodity markets likely to (a) stabilise and (b) destabilise commodity prices?
- Explain why gas prices are likely to rise less than oil prices.
This podcast is from Times Online and is an interview with Jonathan Waghorn, of Investec Global Energy Fund, who “says the price of oil is set to rise over the long term, as it becomes increasingly difficult to find. This spells bad news for motorists, but good news for investors.”
Podcast: The oil price Times Online (4/8/09)
- Why have oil prices fluctuated so much over the past year?
- What is likely to happen to the price of oil over the next few months and why?
- Why is the price of oil likely to rise faster than the rate of inflation over the long term?
- How are the price, income and cross elasticities of demand and the price elasticity of supply relevant to explaining the likely long-term trend in oil prices?
- If the price of crude oil goes up by x per cent, is the price of petrol at the pump likely to go up by x per cent or by more or less than x per cent? Explain your answer.