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.

The March 31 Grain Stocks Report

The reports USDA releases March 31 will set the tone of agricultural trade for three months in Chicago.



Once every quarter the National Agricultural Statistics Service takes a census of the available bushels of corn, soybeans, and wheat. It is called the Grain Stocks report. It is not exactly a survey, but rather more of an actual accounting, in his case of what’s stored in Illinois, says NASS State Statistician Mark Schleusener, “…to measure the whole supply of grains and oilseeds USDA NASS does on farm surveys. Those are done with producers to find out what they have in their grain storage bins. Off farm storage tallies bushels in the mills and the elevators using a census as of March 1. All commercial storage facilities are contacted”.

Nationwide more than 9000 commercial storage facilities are contacted for the census side of the Grain Stocks report. The survey side - that done with farmers - is sent to more than 80,000 producers with an 80 percent response rate. The goal is to get a very accurate accounting of the bushels available for use.

Where the bushels are stored changes across the season. December 1 it is stored on farm. Through the winter months these bushels slowly move to the elevators and mills and eventually, in the case of corn, the bushels are shipped down the river for export, or fed to livestock, or turned into ethanol. The bushels are used.

If you add what’s used to what’s left - the Grain Stocks number - the sum should be the total available supply for the year. However, tracking the middle usage number for corn - bushels fed to livestock - isn’t possible. That’s why USDA calls this number Feed & Residual. This season it is supposed to be 5.3 billion bushels. The question is how much of that 5.3 billion has already been consumed. There in lies the guess says University of Illinois Ag Economist Darrel Good.
Quote Summary - If the most recent pattern is being followed this year and USDA’s 5.3 billion bushel usage for the year is correct, then use for the first half the year should total 3.9 billion bushels with 1.7 of that used in the second quarter. If that is the case, the total use during the second quarter would have been 3.75 billion bushel and leave March 1 stocks at 7.45 billion.
On-the-other-hand, if the usage pattern is more like it was prior to 2010, there could be another 200 or 300 million bushels of corn accounted for in the Grain Stocks figure because it hasn’t yet been consumed. It will still be consistent with a 5.3 billion bushel usage figure for the year.

The Grain Stocks report for corn has a wide range then of acceptable figures from around 7.4 to 7.7 billion bushels. It makes the Grain Stocks number not so important, and puts a great deal more weight on the Prospective Plantings report to be released on the same date, March 31.

How Much Would a Corn Acre in 2015 Make

The ag economists at ILLINOIS have done an interesting exercise to see how much an acre of corn might gross in 2015. Or maybe it might be better explained as what would happen in 2015 if this year was like 1979.



Or what if it were like 2012, or 1983, or 1995, or just pick a year. The idea is to give farmers some hard data on how variable gross revenue from a corn acre is over time by moving that time into 2015. So that’s what U of I ag economists Gary Schnitkey did.

He wanted to look and see what gross revenues would be like for 2015 considering crop revenue, crop insurance, government payments, and price risk. The goal was to know under what conditions would a corn acre produce higher gross revenues this year?



The question then is, “In 2015 what would revenue be like this year if a year like 1972 happened?”.
"When we looked at it, 50% of the revenues were above and 50% of the revenues were below $825 per acre."
Schnitkey put those all into a table on the Farm Doc Daily website from 1972 to 2014. It shows how much of gross revenue would come from price x yield, crop insurance, and government payments.


At $825 most $300 an acre cash rented farms in central Illinois would lose money. Over the span of the years this would happen about 75% of the time and a big yield does not solve the problem - it takes higher prices from some other force. You may read the “Gross Revenues in 2015” article on the Farm Doc Daily website.

How USDA NASS Counts Acres

USDA has just wrapped up its survey of more than 80,000 U.S. farmers. The agency uses the information to develop the March 31st acreage forecast.

In the spring USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service division contacts farmers in hopes of learning how much of each crop they expect to plant. The agency contacts farmers across the United States. Corn and soybean farmers are of particular interest. This year more than 4000 Kansas farmers were tapped, along with around 3700 in Nebraska and about 3000 in each of the Dakotas, Iowa, and Illinois. Another 2000 farmers each were contacted in Indiana and Ohio.

Quote Summary - Our goal is to make sure we are measuring small, medium, and large farms. So, we use what’s called a stratified sample.

That’s NASS Illinois State Statistician Mark Schleusener.

Quote Summary - That is a fancy way of saying for the biggest farms, we are going to talk to all of them; for the large, but not biggest we will talk with one out of three of those and for the medium, maybe one out of ten; and for the smaller farms we might measure one out of twenty-five of those.

Each farmer surveyed is asked how many acres they operate. How much of that land they intend to plant to corn or soybeans, and how much might already be in wheat. They’re also asked about oats, sorghum, and hay. The response rate goal, and usually achievement, is an amazing eighty percent.

Quote Summary - Yes, our goal is an 80% response rate on all surveys and we use several methods of data collection. Every producer in the sample receives a letter with a planting intentions questionnaire. The letter also has instructions for reporting to a secure internet website. These are both inexpensive ways of gathering data. The people that do not respond will be called. If this doesn’t work then someone will make a farm visit for a face to face. Both these methods are more effective, in general, but also are more expensive.

The biggest problem NASS faces when taking the acreage survey is that farmers usually haven’t yet made all their planting decisions. The agency knows this and is satisfied with best estimates. The individual reports are confidential by law and the data collected is exempt from legal processes.

The data can be aggregated at the county, state, and national level. Computers flag any large acreage changes at the individual level so that an analyst can check for a data entry error or make a follow up call. The state statisticians review the total number of crop acres for any major changes - total crop acres generally remain constant - and then submit the estimates in an encrypted file to USDA NASS in Washington, D.C. There more analysis is done and the final report is produced for release March 31.

Cold Weather Maintenance Diets for Dairy Calves

Feeding a heifer dairy calf properly during cold weather can mean up to 1500 extra pounds of milk during her first lactation period. Todd Gleason has more on the increased cold weather maintenance diet that results in such a gain.

You can get more milk from a cow if you treat it right as a calf says University of Illinois Dairy Specialist Phil Cardoso. This is especially the case if those calves are fed a proper maintenance diet during periods of cooler (not necessarily cold) weather when they are very young.

Quote Summary - The maintenance diet supplies all the energy needed for the development of the immune system, for growth, and for the calf to live. There is a thermal neutral zone in which the calves nutritional needs are flat, outside of this zone it needs more energy to generate more heat the winter or to cool down in the summer. During the winter the calf needs to generate energy to heat themselves.

The temperature at which additional feed is needed to keep the calf operating at a maintenance level for growth isn’t so low. It starts at 59 degrees fahrenheit. To this end ILLINOIS uses a simple table to guide dairy farmers in how much extra milk replacer a young calf would need when it is cold stressed. The table has temperatures on one side of the graph and the calf’s weight on the other.

The supplemental energy is provided by the standard 20 percent fat / 20 percent crude protein milk replacer. An example of how the table works would be to find the weight of the calf, say 110 pounds, and the temperature outside. If it is 50 degrees the calf needs four quarts of milk replacer. If it is colder, 41 degrees, it would take 4.26 quarts.

The colder it gets the more milk replacer the calf needs in its regular maintenance diet, at least if the goal is to achieve an extra 1500 pounds of milk once the calf becomes a cow. Those wanting to view the easy to use University of Illinois dairy calf maintenance diet table will find it on the Dairy Focus website.

The Next Mile Post for Soybeans & the Crush

Farmers and the trade are very concerned the price of soybeans will fade over the next six months.

There are a couple of mile posts indicators most will be watching as it relates to the production of soybeans. University of Illinois Ag Economist John Newton says the next one up is the Prospective Plantings report due March 31st from the United States of Department of Agriculture.

Quote Summary - The Prospective Plantings report is a big one. It will give us an idea of how many acres of soybeans U.S. farmers expect to sow this spring. I’m also going to continue to watch the domestic soybean crush and U.S. soybean exports. The nation is on pace to export a record volume this year and USDA maintains this number will increase next year. This would be back to back record soybean export years and certainly worth monitoring. Can the world consume soybeans and the current level? If this is possible, then that should provide some price floor, even some positive price pressure from where we are today.

Exports are reported weekly by USDA and starting in August the ag department will begin reporting the soybean crush totals monthly. The agency is picking up and tweaking a discontinued Census Bureau report.

Quote Summary - The monthly numbers will aid the trade in monitoring the pace of the domestic soybean crush. Another item to keep in mind is the importance of the RFS (Renewable Fuel Standards). It may, at some point, cause soybeans to be crushed for oil. This would have implications for soybean meal and soybean meal prices and this may offset corn fed in the residual balance sheets. These are all things to watch. Some are long run and some are short run; the pace of consumption and soybean crush being the two short run things I’m watching.

You may read more from the University of Illinois ag economists on the Farm Doc Daily website. A new article is posted there each business day of the year.

Soybeans + Numbers

Those listening to the markets every day know there is a big difference between the number of acres the trade thinks will be planted to soybeans and the number of acres USDA is so far projecting. These aren’t as far apart as you might think and there may even be some positive wiggle room in them.



The trade has long thought U.S. farmers will plant about 86 million acres of soybeans. USDA thinks they’ll plant 83 and half million. Because USDA is using

Pork's Boom & Bust Price Pattern

Markets can take your breath away and the hog market over the past year has left many breathless says one Purdue University ag economist.



A year-ago in March, the new PED virus was

Estimated 2014 ARC County Payments

Farmers throughout the nation are deciding which of the new farm programs to take. Another piece of that puzzle was put into place when USDA released the county wide corn and soybean yields late last month. These can be used to estimate some of the 2014 farm program payments.



County wide yields as calculated by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service along with the estimated season's average cash price - the marketing year average - can be used to forward figure 2014 ARC County payments. It is possible therefore to know