Why USDA Lowered the Corn for Ethanol Number

This week (June 10th) USDA lowered its estimate of how many bushels of corn would be used to make ethanol. It surprised the market. However, there is an explanation.

Once a month the United States Department of Agriculture releases a report predicting how corn will be used in several different categories; how much will be fed to livestock, how much will be exported, and how much will be used to make the gasoline additive ethanol. This month it dropped the number of bushels of corn to make ethanol by 25 million. It’s still a big number at 5.175 billion bushels, but the trade didn’t like it. University of Illinois ag economist Darrel Good says it may mean less than the surprise it gave the trade. This, he says, is because the number is calculated in a new way.

Quote Summary - USDA sited its new Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production survey instituted last fall. It shows the number of bushels of corn being consumed to produce ethanol isn’t as large as previously forecast. This suggests the efficiency of ethanol production has in fact increased. So, there is a situation where ethanol production is up four-percent year-over-year, but USDA is only projecting a one-percent increase in corn use. This is because of the new survey data.

Consequently, the new data caused USDA to raise the estimated number of bushels leftover from this market year to go up by 25 million bushels. The increase did not surprise the marketplace. It was looking for a 25 million bushel increase. It just didn’t come from the place it thought it would says Darrel Good.

Quote Summary - They were looking for a lower feed and residual number, not a lower ethanol number.

The trade had dialed in a lower feed and residual category number based on bird flu, the number of turkeys and chickens euthanized because of avian influenza, and therefore no longer consuming corn. This may still show up in the end of the month Grain Stocks report. Even then, it may not be clear thinks Good. Historically, the numbers in the June Grain Stocks report have been noisy.

Quote Summary - It is pretty noisy. The June report in recent years has had some big surprises. We just never know the direction of the surprise. The market needs to be aware of that. The market, at this juncture, seems to be thinking the feed demand is a little weaker than what USDA has projected.

This year USDA has a better corn for ethanol number than in the past, though it doesn’t quite fit with trade perception. They’ll need to adjust. The June Grain Stocks report isn’t likely to help. The feed and residual category, which the trade expects to be smaller, is just an educated guess and includes a big buffer - the residual part of the name.