(TheGuardian) The price of good quality English farmland has doubled over the past five years, making it the most expensive in the world and offering a better return than prime London property, the FTSE 100 or gold.

According to agents Knight Frank demand from wealthy private individuals as well as pension funds, has driven up the average price for an acre of “investment grade” English farmland (large plots with economies of scale) to £12,500, up 100% since 2010. In comparison, the price of luxury London homes has risen 42% over the same period, the FTSE 100 has increased 33%, while gold has dropped 10%.

Many recent buyers of prime farmland are lifestyle buyers, often London financiers, for whom farming can be more of a hobby than about making the land pay its way. ...continue reading

Harvest progress continued this week as farmers worked their fields around the clock cutting their crops. Early yield reports are showing, as most expected, depressed yields in the eastern Corn Belt due to significant rain during the first half of the growing season. Iowa farmers have been delayed by sporadic rains slowing the drying process.

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Harvest is off to another excellent start in September due to relatively warm and dry weather which allowed farmers to already complete 10% of the harvest and start combining soybeans ahead of the five-year historical average. Weather forecasts remain dry for most of the Corn Belt, which will help farmers steadily progress an on-time harvest into October. Additionally, no major frost damaged was reported so far this fall.

The USDA Crop Progress report estimated corn harvest at 23% as of Sunday, September 27th. The current harvest progress is 5% behind the five-year average, but 7% ahead of the harvest in 2014, which was delayed due to above average rainfall during the period. Of the five largest corn producing states, Illinois reported the highest harvest progress at 30%, followed by Indiana at 18%, and Nebraska at 10%. Iowa and Minnesota were 9% and 7% respectively and also behind their five-year harvest average. Some farmers in Iowa have been delayed by wet weather, but many farmers in Minnesota have been preoccupied by their soybean harvest and expect to move to strictly corn in early to mid-October. ...continue reading

(WSJ) Investment firm Black River Asset Management LLC will spin out of its parent company, agricultural giant Cargill Inc., and split into three separate employee-owned firms, Cargill and Black River executives said Monday.

The move, expected to occur during the next several months, comes after recent challenges for Black River. The Hopkins, Minn., hedge-fund and private-equity firm in July said it planned to close four of its hedge funds and return more than $1 billion to investors, citing a lack of demand for the funds.

Black River is expected to split into firms focused on its different business lines: relative-value fixed income, led by the strategy’s chief investment officer, Jeff Drobny, which manages more than $2 billion, and businesses focused on emerging-market credit and private equity, which between the two of them manage about $3 billion. ...continue reading

(NewYorkTimes) Gazing out of a turboprop high above his company’s main asset — 34,000 acres in the Mojave Desert with billions of gallons of fresh water locked deep below the sagebrush-dotted land — Scott Slater paints a lush picture that has enticed a hardy band of investors for a quarter-century.

Yes, Mr. Slater admits, his company, Cadiz, has never earned a dime from water. And he freely concedes it will take at least another $200 million to dig dozens of wells, filter the water and then move it 43 miles across the desert through a new pipeline before thirsty Southern Californians can drink a drop.

But tapping cash, as opposed to actual water, has never been a problem for Cadiz. “I think there’s plenty of money out there,” Mr. Slater said. ...continue reading

(Reuters) With its shares trading at three-year-lows since it abandoned a $46 billion bid to buy Syngenta AG (SYNN.VX) last month, Monsanto Co plans to offer its shareholders a new corporate vision: a future in big data.

Monsanto (MON.N) executives are seeking to reposition the company as a business built on data science and services, as well as its traditional chemicals, seeds and genetic traits operations, Chief Technology Officer Robert T. Fraley told Reuters in an interview.

“We transformed from industrial chemical company to a biotech company, then to a seeds company,” Fraley said. “Now, we’re transforming again.”

Top executives are sketching out plans now, and briefing major shareholders ahead of a wider presentation to investors in November at the company’s St. Louis headquarters, he said. ...continue reading

From Indiana to Nebraska soybean harvest has begun. The USDA estimated that as many as 85 million acres were planted in soybeans, the largest soybean planting in U.S. history. Many farmers have reported mixed yield results thus far, with most blaming poor growing conditions early in the season for below average yields.

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(Reuters) A tropical storm could have carried the corn disease tar spot into the heart of the U.S. farm belt for the first time, as winds and rain blew in from Latin America, researchers told Reuters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed cases of tar spot in at least four locations in Indiana and three in Illinois. The fungal disease has been a problem for years in Mexico and in Central and South America, with farmers fighting infections that can lower yields.

Tropical Storm Bill, which brought rain to the central United States in June after spinning through the Gulf of Mexico, may have transported the disease, said Bill Dolezal, a research fellow for seed company DuPont Pioneer.

"It looks like it came up out of that area," Dolezal said. ...continue reading

(Reuters) Concerns about the world's most popular herbicide continue to mount, as U.S. agricultural experts note spreading weed resistance to glyphosate.As the key ingredient in Monsanto Co's Roundup herbicide products as well as about 700 other products, glyphosate is widely used on farms as well as residential lawns.

But the chemical has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years in part because scientists and environmentalists have warned that weed resistance to glyphosate has become a significant problem that impacts crop production.

In the latest account of glyphosate-resistant weeds, U.S. weed scientist Dallas Peterson said this week that resistance is increasing rapidly in the key farming state of Kansas. The trend is a worrisome sign as weed resistance spreads from the southern U.S. into the Midwest and Plains farming states, he said. ...continue reading

(Reuters) A pioneering Australian scheme to improve the management of water in the world's driest inhabited continent is facing its first real test as an intensifying El Nino threatens crops and builds tensions between farmers and environmentalists.

The three-year old management plan for the Murray-Darling basin, an area twice the size of Spain and home to 40 percent of Australia's agricultural output, has been lauded internationally and suggested as a guide for drought-hit California.

Forged in the wake of a ruinous 14-year drought, the scheme set up a market-based water trading system, improved cooperation across state borders and focused on efficient water usage.

"All of these lessons are appropriate to the United States," said water policy expert Professor David Feldman of the University of California, Irvine, where the state is suffering from a four-year dry spell that has threatened agriculture and helped fan severe wildfires this summer. ...continue reading