Bumper grain harvest are starving farm profits and agri suppliers
On Canada's fertile Prairies, dominated by the yellows and golds of canola and wheat, summers are too short to grow corn on a major scale.
But Monsanto is working to develop what it hopes will be North America's fastest-maturing corn, allowing farmers to grow more in Western Canada and other inhospitable climates, such as Ukraine.
The seed and chemical giant thinks that western Canadian corn plantings could multiply 20 times to 10m acres by 2025 - adding some 1.1bn bushels, or nearly 3pc to global production. The question, amid historically high supplies and low grain prices, is whether the world really needs more corn.
A global grains glut is now in its fourth year, with supplies bloated by favourable weather, increasingly high-tech farm practices and tougher plant breeds. The bin-busting harvests of cheap corn, wheat and soy beans are undermining the business models of the world's largest agriculture firms and the farmers who use their products and services. Some analysts say the firms have effectively innovated their way into a stubbornly oversupplied market.
Never has the world produced so much more food than can be consumed in one season. World-ending stocks of total grains - the leftover supplies before a new harvest - have climbed for four straight years and are poised to reach a record 638m tonnes in 2016/17, according to USDA data.
Farmers and agriculture firms could once count on periodic bouts of crop-destroying weather to tame gluts and drive up prices. But genetically modified crops that repel plant-chewing insects, withstand lethal chemicals and mature faster have made the trend toward oversupply more resistant to traditional boom-and-bust agrarian cycles, experts say.
Another key factor: China - the world's second-biggest corn grower - adopted stockpiling policies a decade ago when crop supplies ran thin, resulting in greater production than the world needs. "I think the norm is where we are now," said Bryan Agbabian, director of agriculture equities at Allianz Global Investors.
Allianz investors seem to agree: The value of two agriculture equity funds that Agbabian manages fell to $300m (€254m) this year from $800m in 2011 as crop prices slid, he said.