BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- The agricultural products and services industry is going to do nothing but grow in coming years as a wealthier world drives up food costs.
World food prices rose to a record in January, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and its Food Price Index. The index, which measures the cost of a basket of basic food supplies -- sugar, cereals, dairy, oils and fats, and meat - jumped 3.4%, the seventh monthly increase in a row. It's now at its highest level since records began in 1990. Adding to the potential volatility in commodities prices has been weather disasters. For example, widespread flooding in Australia decimated much of that nation's wheat crops. Buyers from Asia must now tap other markets to meet demand, further driving up prices. Much of the growth in global nutrient use has come from developing countries in Asia and Latin America, as those regions' rising populations and income levels boost the demand for grains and meat, products that hadn't traditionally been part of their diets. So finding an international play on the sector, which includes more than 40 companies, is worth considering, although returns have been lackluster of late. Shares in the agricultural inputs sector is down 12.5% this year. The S&P 500 Index has risen 5.9%. Monsanto ( MON) is a leader in the "agricultural inputs" sector, which includes producers and sellers of seeds, biotechnology traits, fertilizers and herbicides. >>Monsanto: The Dark View But it's not the only player to look at when considering an investment. There are a host of other companies with excellent prospects, ranging from fertilizer makers to seed suppliers to conglomerates serving the world's corporate farmers in one form or another. Here are five to consider: