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USDA economist sees slowdown in food inflation

Food price inflation may decline slightly in the next year but is likely to remain above projected long-term levels, U. S. Department of Agriculture chief economist Joseph Glauber said Oct. 6.

“We are probably looking for food price inflation to come down but not much for this next year,” he told Reuters after speaking at a conference here on food security.

Glauber said food price inflation in the U. S. is currently running at an annual rate of about five to six per cent and may drop to four to five per cent for next year.

USDA has forecast that food price inflation will return long term to around two to three per cent.

Glauber said higher feed costs, following a sharp advance in grain markets earlier this year, hadn’t immediately translated into increased prices for livestock products.

Livestock producers “pass them on by reducing their herds and that just takes time. That is one reason we see inflation lower next year but still not back to two to three per cent levels,” he said.

High commodity prices could improve yields and bring more land into production, he said, but added there was limited expansion capacity in North America and some constraints in South America linked to environmental concerns.

“I think in the long run a lot will be tied to technological developments and higher prices will certainly encourage research,” he said, adding price signals could also encourage producers to innovate and adopt more efficient technologies in areas such as the use of water.

He also expected an increase in corn plantings in the U. S. next year. This year there was a significant shift from corn to soybeans.

Glauber, who is involved in the long-running Doha round of world trade talks, said he felt a lot of progress had been made but “thorny issues” remained.

Language had been discussed which would require more monitoring and surveillance of export prohibitions, he said. “I think that is a positive step.”

Several countries have imposed restrictions this year on exports of key commodities such as wheat and rice in response to tight global supplies and surging domestic prices.

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