USDA Extends Farm Bill Sign Up One Week

The United States Department of Agriculture has extended the farm bill sign up period, again. A month ago USDA opted to allow the two farm bill deadlines to be consolidated into one ending date. It was scheduled to close Tuesday March 31st.

The sign up period has been extended a full week says U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The deadline is now April 7th.

The secretary reports 98 percent of farm land owners have updated information needed to calculate payments made under the new farm programs, but only 90 percent of the farms are enrolled.

Those farms not enrolled by the deadline will receive no 2014 crop year payments and the farm will default to the Price Loss Coverage enrollment option for the 2015 through 2018 crop years.
Sign up can be completed at local Farm Service Agency offices.

Winter Feeding & the Cow Calf Operation

Winter nutrition for the cow calf operation is key. It may be the best opportunity to positively affect real income.

This was the message heard during the annual Beef & Beyond conference. It was clear and concise. The winter feeding program at a cow calf operation separates profitable farms from less profitable operations. It depends a lot on stored feed says University of Illinois Beef Cattle Specialist Dan Shike.

Quote Summary - How much stored feed are they having to purchase and what is their winter feeding program. We would like to graze as many days as we can, but if we can’t graze we have to feed them something. What’s the least cost approach.

Least cost only works if the cows meet acceptable performance standards. These are to maintain appropriate body condition, to calve once a year, and to wean off as heavy a calf as possible, but there’s more.

Quote Summary - We’ve not given much consideration in the past to the fetus. We’ve focused on the cow. We’ve focused on the calf that is nursing on her, but she’s also been bred and has a developing fetus inside of her. So, the nutrition management of the cow impacts the development of the fetus. There is plenty of data from human epidemiological studies and other animal models that maternal nutrition, or nutrition during gestation, has lifelong impacts on the progeny.

The results with beef cattle are mixed in this area of study and varies from region to region mostly as it relates to available forages. This seems obvious, but the clear message is if the cows are in poor body condition and not being fed enough there is a great deal of risk to hurting the calf. Under winter feedlot conditions this means the properly managed cow produces a calf which eventually yields better marbling. Heifer calves kept for breeding benefit from good nutrition in the womb, too. They weigh more, mature earlier, and have better conception rates.

Quote Summary - All these benefits come later in life at a year or two of age. It was set when the fetus was 3 to 4 months of age during mid-to-late gestation. All because the cow was in good body condition. A condition score of 5 or 6. On the flip side, a short term restriction in nutrition of a cow already in good condition isn’t particularly harmful. If the cow is already thin, say a body condition score of 4 or less, you should anticipate you’re restricting the fetus. If she is in good condition, even if her nutrition is restricted, the cow will mobilize body reserves to supply the appropriate nutrients to the fetus.

The body condition score runs from one to nine with scores of five or six considered optimum. Scores of eight or nine are too fat, scores below four are too thin.

The Final Days of the USDA Report Data

Tuesday the Department of Agriculture will release one of its most anticipated reports of the year. It began collecting data from farmers at the beginning of this month. The crop acreage data is compiled, encrypted and transferred to Washington, D.C.

USDA contacts more than 80,000 farmers across the United States in March. It asks them a series of questions. One in the series is about which crops and how many acres of each they expect to plant this season. The agency sends all those farmers a letter to do this. Those not responding get a phone call, and then if they still don’t respond receive a face-to-face visit. The collection was completed Wednesday March 18th. Last Friday the Illinois and Missouri National Agricultural Statistics Service staffs, if the schedule went as Mark Schleusener expected, should have been reviewing the information.

Quote Summary - The last few days before publication there is an analysis period. Friday morning we are going to look at a balance sheet. We’ll add up all the corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, etcetera, and CRP. In Illinois the total is pretty constant across years with the mix of crop acres changing from one year to the next. So, we’ll make estimates on acreage in each, add them up, and compare it to previous years to see if the sum of the parts makes sense. We’ll do that Friday morning and then submit our estimates in an encrypted file to our Washington, D.C. headquarters. There will be more analysis done under secure conditions and the report comes out March 31.

This analysis is done by National Agricultural Statistic Service staff. Schleusener says the staff is primarily gifted in two area; statistics and agriculture. And he says the sum of those two qualifications is what’s required to do a good job for NASS. Schleusener serves at the NASS Illinois State Statistician.

Quote Summary - So, we are looking at what the number shows. What comes out of the computer, and how that compares to previous surveys and other factors. For instance, this balance sheet approach is a way to make sure we don’t go off-the-rails by being a little bit too high on each crop and a lot too high overall. The balance sheet makes sure we don’t go in that direction.

It gives the analysts a chance to see errors before the Prospective Plantings figures are reported up the chain or out the door. The Prospective Plantings report will be released in Washington, D.C. at noon eastern time Tuesday March 31, 2015.

Soybean Stocks Overshadowed by Prospective Plantings

March 31st traders and farmers are likely to pay a great deal more attention to the number of soybean acres USDA expects will be planted this season than the number of soybean bushels left in the United States. However, the stocks figure may hold some surprises.

Last December the United States Department of Agriculture reported a surprisingly low Grain Stocks number for soybeans. The agency counts up available bushels of most crops once a quarter; in December, March, June, and September. University of Illinois Ag Economist Darrel Good says the December 1 soybean stocks number implied a record large residual use of soybeans during the first quarter (September-November) of the 2014–15 marketing year.

Quote Summary - Some have explained this low figure by suggesting a larger number of bushels of soybean were in transport on December 1 than in previous years. This explanation was apparently favored by the market and caused March 2015 soybean futures to close 36 cents lower on the day of the surprisingly small estimate. Another possible explanation is that the size of the 2014 soybean crops has been overestimated.

This argument might be supported by higher than expected soybean prices this year given the estimated size of the surplus projected to be generated by the large 2014 crop. In addition, basis levels have been generally strong for most of the year. Basis is the difference between the price of a futures contract in Chicago and the local cash bid.

USDA’s March 1, 2015 estimate of soybean stocks may add some clarity to this debate writes Darrel Good in his Weekly Outlook posted to the Farm Doc Daily website. Expectations for the magnitude of March 1 stocks are based on the estimate of December 1 stocks, imports during the quarter, and estimates of soybean consumption during the quarter.

If the size of the 2014 soybean crop has been accurately estimated, the March 1 stocks estimate should imply a large negative seed and residual use during the second quarter of the 2014–15 marketing year. That was the case in previous years of very large implied residual use during the first quarter of the marketing year. Seed and residual use during the second quarter of the marketing year, for example, was estimated at –38 million bushels last year, –22 million bushels in 2012–13 and –42 million bushels in 2009–10. A reasonable expectation this year might be near –90 million bushels. A March 1 stocks estimate near 1.41 billion bushels, then, would be consistent with the estimated size of the 2014 crop and known use of soybeans through February.

Given this, if the USDA’s Grain Stocks report shows something substantially different than 1.41 billion bushels on hand, then it should renew the debate over the size of last fall’s soybean harvest. Such a debate, however, would not be resolved for another six months. The USDA’s estimate of the crop size is frequently revised, but not until the release of the September 1 stocks estimate. It comes on September 30th this year.

Good says, historically, implied seed and residual use of soybeans during the first half of the marketing year has not been a good predictor of the size or direction of any subsequent change in the estimated size of the crop.

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