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Global Biofuels: Key to the Puzzle of Grain Market Behavior

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  • Brian Wright

Abstract

In the last half-decade, sharp jumps in the prices of wheat, rice, and corn, which furnish about two-thirds of the calorie requirements of mankind, have attracted worldwide attention. These price jumps in grains have also revealed the chaotic state of economic analysis of agricultural commodity markets. Economists and scientists have engaged in a blame game, apportioning percentages of responsibility for the price spikes to bewildering lists of factors, which include a surge in meat consumption, idiosyncratic regional droughts and fires, speculative bubbles, a new "financialization" of grain markets, the slowdown of global agricultural research spending, jumps in costs of energy, and more. Several observers have claimed to identify a "perfect storm" in the grain markets in 2007/2008, a confluence of some of the factors listed above. In fact, the price jumps since 2005 are best explained by the new policies causing a sustained surge in demand for biofuels. The rises in food prices since 2004 have generated huge wealth transfers to global landholders, agricultural input suppliers, and biofuels producers. The losers have been net consumers of food, including large numbers of the world's poorest peoples. The cause of this large global redistribution was no perfect storm. Far from being a natural catastrophe, it was the result of new policies to allow and require increased use of grain and oilseed for production of biofuels. Leading this trend were the wealthy countries, initially misinformed about the true global environmental and distributional implications.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian Wright, 2014. "Global Biofuels: Key to the Puzzle of Grain Market Behavior," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(1), pages 73-98, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:1:p:73-98
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.1.73
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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.28.1.73
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    Cited by:

    1. Baumeister, Christiane & Ellwanger, Reinhard & Kilian, Lutz, 2016. "Did the renewable fuel standard shift market expectations of the price of ethanol?," CFS Working Paper Series 563, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
    2. Elleby, Christian, 2014. "Poverty and Price Transmission," 2014 International Congress, August 26-29, 2014, Ljubljana, Slovenia 182722, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
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    4. Gouel, Christophe & Legrand, Nicolas, 2016. "Bayesian Estimation of the Storage Model using Information on Quantities," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235599, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    5. repec:oup:ajagec:v:99:y:2017:i:5:p:1117-1142. is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:zbw:esthes:157992 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Zhou, Wei & Babcock, Bruce A., 2017. "Using the competitive storage model to estimate the impact of ethanol and fueling investment on corn prices," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 195-203.
    8. Lade, Gabriel E. & Lin, C.-Y. Cynthia & Smith, Aaron, 2015. "Ex Post Costs and Renewable Identification Number (RIN) Prices under the Renewable Fuel Standard," Discussion Papers dp-15-22, Resources For the Future.
    9. Timothy E. Josling & Stefan Tangermann, 2015. "Transatlantic Food and Agricultural Trade Policy," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 15889, April.
    10. Moschini, GianCarlo & Lapan, Harvey & Kim, Hyunseok, 2016. "The Renewable Fuel Standard: Market and Welfare Effects of Alternative Policy Scenarios," 2016 Annual Meeting, July 31-August 2, 2016, Boston, Massachusetts 235721, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    11. Baines, Joseph, 2014. "The Ethanol Boom and the Restructuring of the Food Regime," Working Papers on Capital as Power 2014/03, Capital As Power - Toward a New Cosmology of Capitalism.
    12. James B. Bushnell & Jonathan E. Hughes & Aaron Smith, 2017. "Food vs. Fuel? Impacts of Petroleum Shipments on Agricultural Prices," NBER Working Papers 23924, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    17. repec:oup:erevae:v:44:y:2017:i:4:p:540-566. is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Dannemann, Tebbe & Prehn, Soren & Brümmer, Bernhard, 2014. "Optionshandel Und Maispreisvolatilitat: Does the Tail Wag the Dog?," 54th Annual Conference, Goettingen, Germany, September 17-19, 2014 187371, German Association of Agricultural Economists (GEWISOLA).
    19. repec:fpr:ifpric:9780896292499-01 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Kanbur, Ravi, 2015. "Education For Climate Justice," Working Papers 250015, Cornell University, Department of Applied Economics and Management.
    21. Anais Maillet, 2015. "Food price volatility and farmers' production decisions under imperfect information," FOODSECURE Technical papers 8, LEI Wageningen UR.
    22. Glauber, Joseph W. & Effland, Anne, 2016. "United States agricultural policy: Its evolution and impact:," IFPRI discussion papers 1543, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    23. Śmiech, Sławomir & Papież, Monika & Dąbrowski, Marek A., 2015. "Does the euro area macroeconomy affect global commodity prices? Evidence from a SVAR approach," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 485-503.
    24. Peter Maniloff & Sul-Ki Lee, 2015. "The Ethanol Mandate and Corn Price Volatility," Working Papers 2015-01, Colorado School of Mines, Division of Economics and Business.
    25. Shweta Saini & Ashok Gulati, 2017. "Price Distortions in Indian Agriculture," Working Papers id:12042, eSocialSciences.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • Q11 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Aggregate Supply and Demand Analysis; Prices
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services
    • Q42 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Energy - - - Alternative Energy Sources

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