Agflation peaks, but corrosive effects linger


28 June 2023
Andersons’ Agflation index reveals how both agflation and agricultural output prices have risen since 2018.

AFTER rising sharply since 2021 and peaking in July 2022 at 28.4%, agricultural inputs’ inflation (Agflation) has been in free-fall during the first half of 2022 and has become deflationary. 

The latest estimates suggest that agricultural input prices in May 2023 are 3% lower than in May 2022. Agricultural output prices have broadly mirrored the trend for agricultural inputs and have also become deflationary, currently standing at -2.3%. 

This is in sharp contrast to food prices (depicted by CPI Food), which in May 2023 are estimated to have risen by 18.7% year-on-year.

Although, it appears that food prices for consumers are continuing to rise whilst agricultural prices are falling, importantly, there is a lag between how agricultural prices evolve and how these prices are reflected in retail prices. Back in 2017, when agricultural output prices reached their highest point in May of that year (at 13.2%), the CPI Food index did not peak until the following November (at 4.1%). 

This reveals a lag of about 6 months and indicates that the highest extent of inflation in food prices was significantly lower than for agricultural outputs. A key reason for this is that agricultural raw materials are one of several inputs that go into supplying food to consumers. Other inputs such as labour, energy, and packaging are also significant, and traditionally are much less volatile than agricultural prices.

That said, the combined effects of Brexit, Covid and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have exerted multiple pressures on both agricultural commodities, labour and energy inputs meaning that recent CPI Food inflation has almost reached 20%. However, there are signs that food price inflation might have peaked in March 2023, about seven months after agricultural output prices had done similar.
Furthermore, although the chart above shows that inflation is trending downwards, it disguises that agricultural and food prices today are substantially higher than they were two years ago, as the indexed chart below shows. 

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Agricultural input prices are 24% higher, agricultural outputs are up 15% whilst food prices are up by 29% in that time. In this time, prices elsewhere in the economy, denoted by the CPI index are also up by 18%. 

This reveals the corrosive pressure that inflation exerts on consumers’ incomes. Understandably, workers will seek pay rises to mitigate these increases. This, in turn, will mean that inflationary pressure across the economy generally will continue to linger, especially as annual inflation (8.7% (CPI)) remains way higher than the Bank of England’s 2% target.

With consumer incomes under pressure, there is even greater focus on food prices and, by implication, the prices that farmers receive. All the while, farmers too are contending with their costs being significantly higher than two years ago. This signifies further challenges ahead, at a time when recent Free Trade Agreements with Australia and New Zealand have entered into force.

Although farmers in those countries have also had to contend with inflationary pressures, it suggests that a delicate balancing act will be needed so that British prices remain competitive, whilst permitting farmers to cover the significant cost increases that they have experienced in the past two years.

Indeed, a key reason why agricultural inflation has come down is because the annualised figures compare with a given month a year earlier, a period when the world was adjusting to the shocks caused by the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. When annual inflation is compared to a period after which costs had increased considerably, it is unsurprising that the rate of increase has slowed, or turned negative in the case of agflation.