Gary Schnitkey from the University of Illinois discusses crop insurance loss ratios for 2018, the current outlook for payments in 2019, and the strategic economic models he’ll be developing for soybeans.
Most 2018 payments on Federal crop insurance products have now been entered into the Risk Management Agency’s (RMA’s) record system and losses for 2018 can be stated accurately. Similar to 2016 and 2017, low losses again occurred in 2018. Losses were particularly low in Illinois and, more generally, the eastern Corn Belt.
Background on Loss Ratios
This article presents loss ratios, which equal payments on crop insurance policies divided by total premium paid on crop insurance policies. A loss ratio of 1.0 means that crop insurance payments are equal to total premium. Ratios above 1.0 indicate that payments exceed premium, which occurs with some regularity. On the other hand, loss ratios below 1.0 indicate that payments are less than premium. Given the way RMA sets premiums, loss ratios should average slightly below 1.0 over time. Given the high correlation of losses across policies in a year, variability in aggregate loss ratios will occur from year to year.
Data reported in this article come from the Summary of Business which is available from the RMA website. Data were downloaded in late April of 2019. Some changes to loss ratios will occur over time as more loss data become available. However, 2018 loss performance will not materially vary from loss ratios presented here.
Loss Ratios in 2018
For all insurance products, the 2018 loss ratio was .69, indicating that crop insurance payments were less than total premium. Overall, 2018 was a low loss year, continuing a string of low loss years that have occurred since 2013 (see Figure 1). Loss ratios exceeded 1.0 in the drought year of 2012 when the overall loss ratio was 1.57. Payments also exceeded premium in 2013 when the loss ratio was 1.03. Since 2013, loss ratios have been below 1.0 in each year: .91 in 2014, .65 in 2015, .42 in 2016, .54 in 2017, and .69 in 2018. These low loss years correspond to relatively high yielding years in corn and soybeans (farmdoc daily, April 16, 2019).
The overall loss ratio is highly influenced by the performance of corn and soybeans, as these two crops account for 56% of total premium. In 2018, corn policies had 32% of total premium while soybeans had 23%. In 2018, loss ratios were .43 on corn and .56 on soybeans. Since 2014, both crops have had low loss ratios. Corn loss ratios were .46 in 2015, .27 in 2016, .37 in 2017, and .43 in 2018. Soybean loss ratios were .55 in 2015, .21 in 2016, .30 in 2017, and .56 in 2018.
2018 Loss Ratios by County
Many counties in the Corn Belt had very low loss ratios, as would be expected given that corn and soybeans have very low loss ratios. Figure 2 shows loss ratios by county for all policies in that county. Loss ratios below .4 predominated in a stretch of counties beginning in eastern Iowa, going through Illinois, Indiana, and ending in Ohio. Low loss ratios also were in western Corn Belt counties including Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. In contrast, there was a concentration of counties along the Iowa-Minnesota border that had higher loss ratios above 1.0.
Other sections of the country had higher loss ratios. Loss ratios above 1.2 predominated in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, northwest Missouri and eastern Kansa, and western Texas.
Overall, loss ratios were low in 2018, continuing a string of years since 2014 that have had low loss ratios. Low loss ratios occurred primarily because of low losses on corn and soybean policies in the Corn Belt.
Last Monday Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson held a press conference in Moorhead. There in his home state, Mr. Peterson spent twenty-four minutes detailing the Farm Bill conference agreement. University of Illinois Agricultural Policy Specialist Jonathan Coppess listened to the discussion and has this review with farm broadcaster Todd Gleason.
Each Friday over the past three weeks December corn futures closed lower. These lower weekly thresholds have come despite a very good export pace.
USDA projects this marketing year U.S. corn exports will top two-point-four-billion bushels. So far that doesn’t look too bad says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs, “We are definitely on pace. We’ll above last year’s pace, but everybody needs to remember we got off to a sluggish start last year and it really picked up in the second-half of the marketing year. We’ve seen a little bit of weakness recently, but we are still within the 2.45 billion bushels in my opinion.”
Hubbs is okay with USDA’s corn-used-to-produce ethanol figure, too. Although he says that’ll depend on ethanol exports as plant margins are really tight. He’s hopeful the corn-used-for-feed number will look better in January. That’ll depend a lot on the December Grain Stocks report. Still he says, “Right now, from the November projections, we are on track. There is a lot of uncertainty left in that. But when we look at the corn prices over the last few weeks, it is definitely related to the soybean prices and the bearishness in the (crude) oil market. I think both of those things are holding down corn prices.”
Not that if those two items were solved corn would rally substantially. It would come up, but still be capped by the available supply and some thought that USDA’s export target is a bit robust. Todd Hubbs thinks of it this way. The market has a done a good job of front loading U.S. corn exports and it is very unlikely the second half of the 2018/19 marketing year will be a repeat of last season’s stellar pace.
The price of soybeans rallied out of the October USDA Crop Production report. This is because it showed fewer acres of the crop would be harvested this season. University of Illinois analyst Todd Hubbs thinks the upside potential is limited, “I don’t know if this thing is sustainable. It doesn’t feel that way to me. Moving through the rest of the harvest year and towards the start of 2019, I think we are going to have to see some kind of production issues in the South American crop or if China breaks and doesn’t hold out completely on taking U.S. soybeans before we see a sustained upward movement. I think the upside potential is limited.”
Limited because, even if this year’s crop is hurt some by the poor harvest conditions so far it will remain a record breaker. Right now USDA has it at 4.7 billion bushels. There are plenty of soybeans in the world. That makes it a buyers market and price is going to depend a whole lot upon how many U.S soybeans can be exported says Hubbs, “Basically it doesn’t look like other importers are picking up the loss of the Chinese market like we would like them to.”
When you look at last year and the huge amount of exports Brazil did in the second-half of the marketing year, and even the strength in the latter quarter of the U.S. marketing year, you can see tariff action picking up in forward buying and movement of soybeans thinks the U of I number cruncher. So far in this marketing year we haven’t seen much Chinese movement. In the last export inspections report about 5 million bushels went to China. Still, they seem to be sitting it out and not buying soybean from the United States. This is happening even though the price of U.S. soybeans, when compared to the price of Brazilian soybeans delivered to China, are very competitive.
It all brings Hubbs back to that word “limited”. He sees the upside price potential in soybeans as limited by an enormous supply in the United States and around the world, “If you are thinking about marketing soybeans, I’d take a good hard look at the price we are seeing right now because ending stocks are set at 88 5 million bushels for the 2018/19 marketing year and barring some kind of uptick in exports from the U.S. that may be the low end of reasonable projections depending on what the crop ends up doing here in the U.S.”
This year’s pumpkin crop is the best in the last two decades. That means there will be plenty of jack-o-lanterns for Halloween and lots of pie filling for Thanksgiving.
When the pumpkin crop in Illinois is big that means the whole nation can celebrate fall says Mohammad Babadoost from the Univeristy of Illinois, “We are number one in both of them, jack-o-lantern and processing pumpkins. Far, far ahead of any other state.”
More than 90% of the pumpkin pie filling sold in the United States comes from two processing plants located near Peoria, Illinois. This year the pumpkins feeding into those plants are yielding a record breaking 27 tons per acre. The average is about 23. This is pretty amazing given that a plant disease nearly wiped out the whole industry in the state a couple of decades ago.
Babadoost is naturally proud of his University of Illinois work to salvage the industry from the disease and he continues to work with farmers today to provide them crop production and protection advice. He says pumpkins are a high value crop that work well into a row crop rotation, “Very well. In fact pumpkin rotated with corn or even soybean is a very good crop rotation program.”
Even better, pumpkins can provide two sources of income should the farm want to diversity into a little agro-tourism.
As the trade conflict with China continues, prices for many agricultural commodities remain relatively low. Illinois corn and soybean prices dipped to new lows in September, coinciding with the latest rounds of tariffs.
The difference between selling an entire crop at spring forward bid prices compared to the September average cash prices makes a substantial difference in income on an average central Illinois grain farm.
University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey reviews how this plays out on a 1700 acre corn and soybean farm in Illinois this year, and what the prospects look like for next year.
This fall farmers will harvest a record sized soybean crop. USDA says about 4.7 billion bushels. They’ll need a home and farmers in North Dakota are really worried. About 2/3rds of their crop is shipped by rail to the Pacific Northwest for export to China. The Trump administration trade policies have mostly closed that market says North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp, “What I would tell you is not only have you disrupted the markets and we have taken a haircut, you may not be able to sell them which is something I’ve been talking about for a long time.” Heitkamp was speaking to farmers in Fargo at the Big Iron farm show this week.
The cash price of soybeans has tumbled across the whole of the Midwest and some elevators are telling farmers not to bring their beans to town. Those soybeans from the Dakota’s and Minnesota are going to try and find another way out of the country. That’s probably through St. Louis and down the Mississippi River. It’s a brutal cash price situation that backs right up into Illinois says Todd Hubbs, “I hope some people put in at $10 to $10.30. Now it is just a lot of damage limitation and hopefully you get a good yield and you can market some of those soybeans right across the scale, but you are looking at really low prices.”
Hubbs, a commodity marketing specialist from the University of Illinois, thinks the only other option is for farmers to store soybeans on the farm and to hope for an end to the trade dispute with China or for a weather problem in Brazil, or both. Though he admits hope is not a strategy.
The dramatic fall in the price of corn and soybeans earlier in the year has put farmers in a unique marketing position. They must decide how much of the drop is due to the expected bumper crop size of the harvest and how much comes from the Trump Administration trade policies. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs says determining when those disputes might be settled is key to making good marketing decisions.
University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey discusses the surprise $5 an acre cash rent increase seen in the state wide 2018 survey numbers and how farm economics look going into the 2019 growing season. by USDA NASS see the 2018 USDA Land Values Survey
Agricultural Land Values Highlights
The United States farm real estate value, a measurement of the value of all land and buildings on farms, averaged $3,140 per acre for 2018, up $60 per acre (1.9 percent) from 2017 values.
Regional changes in the average value of farm real estate ranged from an 8.3 percent increase in the Southern Plains region to 1.4 percent decrease in the Northern Plains region. The highest farm real estate values were in the Corn Belt region at $6,430 per acre. The Mountain region had the lowest farm real estate value at $1,140 per acre.
The United States cropland value averaged $4,130 per acre, an increase of $40 per acre from the previous year. In the Southern Plains region, the average cropland value increased 4.7 percent from the previous year, while in the Lake region, cropland values decreased by 0.6 percent.
The United States pasture value increased by $40 per acre (3.0 percent) from 2017 values. The Southern Plains region had the highest increase from 2017 at 5.6 percent. The Pacific region remained unchanged at $1,650 per acre.
Cropland value: The value of land used to grow field crops, vegetables, or land harvested for hay. Land that switches back and forth between cropland and pasture should be valued as cropland. Hay land, idle cropland, and cropland enrolled in government conservation programs should be valued as cropland.
The farmdocDaily team has written an article projecting future farm safety-net payments. Unless the conference committee members change ARC-Co (ark-county) dramatically, most corn farmers will choose P-L-C this time around.
excepts from the farmdocDaily article by Gary Schnitkey, Jonathan Coppess, Nick Paulson, & Carl Zulauf
The House and Senate have respectively passed their versions of a 2018 Farm Bill. Now a conference committee will attempt to work out the differences. Both include the Agricultural Risk Coverage at the County Level (ARC-CO) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) farm safety net programs first made available in the 2014 bill. The House version eliminates a third program— ARC at the individual farm level (ARC-IC) — while the Senate leaves it in.
ARC-CO pays when county revenue (county yield x marketing year average price) is below a revenue guarantee. The revenue guarantee equals .86 times a benchmark yield times a benchmark price. Benchmark yields and benchmark prices are Olympic averages of the five previous prices (eliminate the high and low equals). When county revenue is below the ARC guarantee, a shortfall is calculated that equals the guarantee minus harvest revenue. The shortfall cannot exceed 10% of the benchmark price times the benchmark yield. The ARC payment equals 85% times the shortfall. In each year since the 2014 Farm Bill has been implemented, payments have been reduced by a 6.8% sequester amount. Prices since 2014 have been below $4.00, and the benchmark price has declined. The benchmark price will be $3.70 in 2018, compared with a high of $5.29 in 2014. The benchmark price cannot go below $3.70 since the $3.70 reference price is a floor on the benchmark price.
Price Loss Coverage (PLC) is a price program. It makes payments when prices are below the reference price ($3.70 for corn). Each FSA farm has a PLC yield. The yield used in calculating payments is the average county yield, as reported by the Farm Service Agency. A per bushel shortfall is calculated when the MYA price is below the reference price equal to the reference price minus the higher of the MYA price or loan rate ($1.95 for corn). For example, the MYA price was $3.36 in 2016. Per bushel shortfall was $.34 ($3.70 reference price – $3.36 MYA Price), which is multiplied by the PLC yield and the payment acre factor of 0.85 and the sequester factor of (1 – 0.068).
The Senate ARC-CO version modifies the 2014 ARC-CO version in two ways; the benchmark yield will be trend adjusted; and an actual yield below 75% of the t-yield will be replaced by 75% of the t-yield. Both of these modifications have potential to raise benchmark yields, benchmark guarantees, and ARC payments.
The Senate PLC program is exactly the same as the 2014 PLC program.
The House PLC version uses an effective reference price in calculating per bushel shortfalls. The effective reference price equals .85 times the Olympic, five-year average of MYA prices as long as that average is between the current reference price ($3.70 for corn) up to 1.15 times the reference price ($4.26 for corn). If the average is below the $3.70 reference price, the $3.70 reference price is used. If the average is above $4.26, the $4.26 price is used. The House PLC program always has an effective price that is at least as great as the Senate PLC program.
The projection made in its April 2018 baseline allows calculation of CBO’s projections of per acre ARC-CO and PLC payments. On a national per base acre basis, ARC-CO is expected to make payments of $11 per acre for corn produced in the 2019 marketing year (see Table 2). For the 2019 marketing year, PLC is projected to pay $38 per corn base acre. In each year of the projected life of the 2018 Farm Bill, PLC is projected to pay more than ARC-CO. Over the 2019 to 2023 period, PLC is projected to pay an average of $29 per corn base acre compared to $9 per corn base acre for ARC-CO.
The Senate version of ARC-CO would result in higher payments for ARC-CO than those shown in Table 2 because the use of trend-adjusted yields and floors of 75% of t-yields will result in higher yield benchmarks and ARC guarantees. CBO’s estimate of program outlay changes for the Senate version suggests modest increases in spending of an average $20.5 million per year for marketing years from 2019 to 2023 (see Congressional Budget Office, Cost Estimates of S. 3042). The $20.5 million is applicable to all program crops. However, even if all the $20.5 million were applied to corn, expected payments would increase by $1.35 per corn base acre. This increase would leave expected payments for ARC-CO near $12 per base acre, still well below those for PLC. It is unlikely this increase would change any decisions by farmers as to which program to elect.
Turning to PLC, the House alternative will have at least as high of payments as shown in Table 2 for the Senate version because the House version has the potential escalator provision for reference prices. CBO estimates the impacts of the effective reference price mechanism to be minor for corn, with PLC payments for corn increasing $5 million for the ten fiscal years from 2019 to 2028 (CBO, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress–2017–2018/costestimate/hr2.pdf). This $5 million total increase would work out to be less than an increase of $1 per corn base acre. The reason for this low estimate is that MYA prices are not expected to get high enough to cause the effective reference price to exceed the reference price.
Given the choices in the House and Senate versions, most farmers and land owners would choose PLC over ARC-CO for use on corn base acre. This assumes that prices remain at levels currently forecast. It also assumes that farmers and land owners make choices based on highest expected payments from the program.
Farmers should be on the lookout for black cutworm in their corn fields.
The earliest projected cutting dates were late last week in Montgomery County. University of Illinois Extension Entomologist Nick Seiter says fields especially at risk to having plants cut by the black cut worm include those with later planted corn and those sown into grassy weeds or a late terminated cover crop. Seiter explains, “What you are going to want to do is to scout your field. Look for plants lying on the ground that appear to have been cut with scissors. This is different looking than damage from a bird digging up the plant looking for the seed. These corn plants will be cut off. When you start finding that, scrape around in the residue looking for the larvae. The black cut worm larva is dark colored, with a greasy appearance. It is not slimy, but it looks like it has been coated with Crisco. If you find the worms and about three percent of the plants have been cut throughout the field it is the time to initiate a treatment.”
Seiter says there are several pyrethroid insecticides that can be successfully used as a rescue treatment. He offers these black cutworm management pain on the University of Illinois the Bulletin website.
Infestations are more likely in later planted corn, as delayed planting means larger cutworm larvae are present at earlier stages of corn development.
Black cutworm moths prefer to lay their eggs on grasses, not bare ground. Therefore, fields with grassy weeds present at or shortly before planting are more likely to experience damaging populations. Similarly, monitor fields closely if a grass cover crop (e.g., cereal rye) is terminated while corn is susceptible to cutworm damage (emergence to ~V5).
The economic threshold for black cutworm is 3% of plants cut with black cutworms still present in the field. Look for plants that look like they have been cut roughly with scissors close to the base; plants with intact roots were most likely dug up by birds and do not represent cutworm damage. Remember, larvae do their feeding at night and hide in residue or just below the soil surface during the day, so you will have to do a little bit of digging near the base of the plant to find them.
Several Bt corn trait packages offer suppression of black cutworm, but these might be less effective under heavy infestations or against later stage larvae. Most pyrethroid insecticides labeled for use in corn will do an excellent job of controlling larvae as a rescue treatment; just remember that they only pay off when an economic threshold has been reached.
Kelly Estes at the Illinois Natural History Survey coordinates an insect trapping network throughout the state and those results, including the black cut worm cutting dates, are posted online at The Bulletin website - that’s bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu and on twitter using the handles @ILPestBulletin or @ILPestSurvey.
Farmers figuring crop budgets for this year will face an uncomfortable reality. In order to break-even on cash rented land, generally speaking, it will require above trend yields, higher prices, or some combination of the two.
2018 is shaping up very much like the last two years says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey. Each of them began with dire price and income outlooks. Higher than average trend yields financially salvaged what were expected to be very poor seasons on highly productive soils in central Illinois. FBFM (Farm Business Farm Management) records show farmers in this area of the state harvested 228 bushel corn and 69 bushel soybeans on average in 2016 and, while the numbers have not yet been fully summarized, project 2017 yields at 221 and 68.
Since 2012 corn and soybean yields in central Illinois have been at or above trend. The weather and management will need to produce another year of above-trend yields in order for cash grain farmers to break even again this year.
U of Illinois’ Gary Schnitkey calculates break even will require a $3.97 average cash corn price with a trend yield of 202 bushels to the acre. If the average yield is 229, then the average break even cash price would be $3.50. The figures for soybean are $9.85 at the 61 bushel trend and $8.84 with a 68 bushel yield.
It was a pretty good week for corn and soybean futures in Chicago. However, given the last six months of trade that’s not a huge accomplishment.
Presented below you’ll see two thoughts on where the markets might be headed. “Bad Weather Rising” lays out Scott Irwin’s longer term contrarian view. He’s of the opinion the markets over the next five years will reflect a higher mid-point. Irwin’s colleague at the University of Illinois, Todd Hubbs, takes the shorter term ‘marketing view’. His price outlook is less attractive. Again, one view is long-term and the other is short-term. Both have implications for farm and marketing decisions.
Further down in this letter you’ll find an article reposted from farmdocDaily. In it Iowa State’s Keri Jacobs details how the new tax law will impact grain marketing. You’ve likely heard a great deal about the 20% tax break farmers will receive if the first sale of their grain goes through a cooperative. Jacobs offers insight into how this works and the potential impact it will have on agricultural infrastructure.
There’s something a bit fun in today’s letter, too. The first corn harvest of 2018 in the United States has already taken place! Well, it’s actually the 2017 corn crop. Last Thursday I slammed my brakes on just outside of Jacksonville, Illinois to stop and watch Jon Brickey harvest five acres with an 1160 Case combine (he thinks 1969 vintage). I took a few photos and a made a little video.
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Bad Weather Rising
An agricultural economist at the University of Illinois is looking for a long-term recovery in the commodity markets. Commodity prices have been low since 2014, but the price of farmland has remained fairly strong. This is an indication thinks University of Illinois’ Scott Irwin that those buying farmland believe his contrarian view that prices will recover say to $4.00 for corn, $10.75 for soybeans, and $4.75 for all wheat. That’s at least one way to reconcile the firmness of land values. These long-run investors, whether they be farmers or outside investors, are looking for higher averages to restore profitability.
Irwin says there are two reasons for commodity prices to increase. One of them is slow. It’s the return of better economic conditions across the planet. The other he says is fast and violent, “I think it will be a series, in a fairly short period of time, of really poor weather that will be the big event that pulls us out.”
The ag economist is looking for the return of a more normal frequency of bad weather in the United States. Noting that the last twenty-plus years have been the best series in terms of corn belt weather since 1895.
March corn futures continue to trade between $3.48 and $3.60. This has been the case since the release of the November USDA supply and demand tables. It continues today despite the bearish information contained in USDA’s end of year reports released January 12. Todd Hubbs says corn prices continue to stay in relatively narrow range, and that pattern may remain for the next several weeks.
Listen to Todd Hubbs discussion of his farmdocDaily article with Univesity of Illinois Farm Broadcaster Todd Gleason
The University of Illinois grain markets specialist says the present outlook projects ample corn supplies in 2018. This will likely keep corn prices in the current range until information on spring planting is released. USDA’s Prospective Plantings report is due March 29th. Hubbs says a typical price pattern suggests a price rally in late spring or early summer associated with a weather issue. Summer weather and the impact it has on corn production will eventually determine the 2018 corn price.
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The New Tax Laws & Marketing Grain to Cooperatives
by Keri L. Jacobs
Department of Economics
Iowa State University
The newly passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced substantive changes to individual and entity-level tax rates and deductions, many of them welcomed by individuals and corporations. One section of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in particular–IRC § 199A Deduction for Qualified Business Income of Pass-Through Entities (Sec 199A hereafter)–is getting a lot of attention, raising questions and eyebrows for its potential impacts on grain marketing decisions. In essence, language in this section of code gives producers marketing grain a significant incentive to sell to a cooperative rather than a non-cooperative firm.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the primary features of the Sec 199A deduction causing concern and discuss potential implications for producers and grain marketing firms. Note that at one month into the new tax year, there are ongoing efforts directed at modifying the language in the code to correct the unintended effects on producers and grain marketing firms.
What Does Sec 199A Do?
Sec 199A is a deduction that applies to income earned from the business activities of pass-through entities, like S corporations, sole proprietorships, partnerships, and so forth. These are businesses whose income is not taxed at the entity level, but passed-through to its owners. The intent in crafting Sec 199A was two-pronged: 1) to ensure that these pass-through, non-corporate entities had a deduction similar to the reduction in the corporate tax rate, which dropped from a maximum of 35% to a flat rate of 21%, and 2) to retain, for cooperative organizations, a prior deduction that was removed: Domestic Productions Activity Deduction (DPAD), or Sec 199. This is not a typo: Sec 199A replaces Sec 199 of the 2001 Bush tax cuts. Note that the DPAD was a jobs-creation deduction and available to manufacturing firms across many sectors, including agricultural cooperatives marketing farmers’ domestic production of grain.
The Sec 199A deduction for pass-through entities is based on qualified business income (QBI). There are restrictions on what qualifies as a business activity for this deduction (many services, for example, do not), and both the definition of qualified business income and calculation of the actual deduction are complicated. But in simple terms, the deduction is 20% of the qualified business income, subset to a wage limitation. Though complicated, this portion of the code is not contentious.
Sec 199A has a second feature, and this is the part that leaves open a number of questions about unintended consequences. In addition to the deduction related to qualified business income, it provides a 20% deduction on ‘qualified cooperative dividends.’ Typically we think of qualified cooperative dividends as the annual allocation of profits from a cooperative to its members–these are better called qualified cooperative patronage allocations. In this new law, those are indeed included in the payments eligible for 20% deduction and also not hugely controversial. However, another payment by cooperatives to its members is also included in the definition of ‘qualified cooperative dividends’: per unit retains (more correctly called per unit retains paid in money, or PURPIM). Per unit retains, in the simplest terms, are the payments from cooperatives to members for their grain or other agricultural production. Note the deduction applies only to the marketing or pooling functions (grain and other agricultural products) and does not include purchases by members for agronomy, seed, fuel, etc.
Per unit retains were defined as ‘qualified cooperative dividends.’ As a result, a producer selling grain can receive a 20% deduction of gross grain sales (before farm expenses) from taxable income less capital gains if s/he is a member selling to a cooperative. If instead the sale is to a non-cooperative marketing firm or processor (e.g., ADM, Cargill, or any number of independent grain marketing firms), the deduction is 20% of the net income. At the surface, this creates a significant effective basis gap between otherwise equal basis bids for grain or other agricultural commodities. A simple example, abstracting from the complexities of QBI and marginal tax calculations shows the potential.
A farmer has $500k in gross grain sales (140,000 bushels) and $100,000 in net farm income, all from selling grain. If she markets through a cooperative, she anticipates a patronage allocation of $0.025 cents per bushel, or $3,500.
Choice A: She markets the crop to an independent grain firm or processor and, through Sec 199A, she deducts up to 20% of her QBI: 20% x $100,000 = $20,000 potential deduction.
Choice B: If she markets the crop to her cooperative, she deducts up to 20% of gross sales (20% x $500,000 = $100,000) because they qualify as per unit retains, plus 20% of any qualified patronage allocation (20% x $3,500 = $700). The potential deduction is $100,700.
At a 22% marginal tax rate based on selling to an independent marketing firm or processor (Choice A), the deduction difference between these two choices is $80,700, which equates to $0.12 per bushel in taxes. Estimates from tax professionals working with producers is that the tax effect may range from $0.05 - $0.20 per bushel.
It is clear to see why producers are eager for clarification on this law and why independent grain firms and processors want it changed. Facing equivalent cash bids in the market, the signal is pretty clear that it is advantageous to market to a cooperative.
What if it stays as written?
The above example is meant for illustration, and there are a number of factors that might mitigate the true differential created by the law, and these are producer-specific. Still, contemplating its preservation, a cascade of questions emerge regarding grain and agricultural product movements, local capacity, optimal organizational structures for farmers, and the fate of independents. Below are my thoughts summarized in the two broader questions I receive, vetted with trusted colleagues and grain marketing experts. The perspective I provide here applies to agricultural producers and grain marketing in the Midwest, but certainly there are related or larger impacts for other types of ag cooperatives throughout the country.
Do cooperatives have the storage and transport capacity to handle agricultural products if all producers sell to a cooperative? What happens if not? What will be the local price impacts?
Generally speaking, it is unlikely that cooperatives have sufficient facilities currently to handle the harvest grain movements and other seasonal gluts that arise in the Midwest. But storage is a local phenomenon and each region will be different. In Iowa, for example, approximately 72% of the 1.4 billion bushels of licensed grain warehouse capacity (state and federally licensed) is held by a cooperative. If one considers on-farm storage, the argument could be made that this law wouldn’t create a significant grain-movement challenge in a number of parts of Iowa. In Kansas, approximately 70% of the grain storage is held by cooperatives or on-farm. Cooperatives in both states use ground piles to manage harvest gluts, and if this law sticks, that challenge may be exacerbated in the short term. But cooperatives and producers would respond to the economic incentives to invest in grain storage in that case. Condominium grain storage is another option for producers to mitigate storage constraints.
Grain storage facilities aside, a number of mitigating origination options are already used. In regions where processors and ethanol plants exist, producers use ‘direct-ship’ contracts to haul grain directly to a processor even though it is sold to the cooperative. Without recent data regarding the proportion of grain moving this way, it is hard to say whether we will see a significant change in those patterns, and even if so, grain movements and prices will find an equilibrium. Independent grain firms and processors likely will seek to establish marketing arrangements with cooperatives as a way to secure footing locally in the grain business.
Local price impacts are another unknown. On the one hand, some independents and corporations received a nearly 40% reduction in taxes (from 35% to 21%) via Sec 199A that cooperatives, which pass through member-based income to patron-members did not. The argument has been made that they can use those tax savings to be price competitive in the eyes of producers making the marketing decision. On the other hand, local capacity constraints at cooperatives may depress local basis, particularly during harvest, which partially mitigates the tax-differential created by Sec 199A.
Cooperatives typically do not turn away grain from members, which is why we observe large grain piles on the ground during harvest. Producers individually will need to weigh the potential tax deduction benefit with other costs associated with marketing grain: hauling distance, local basis differential, differentials in wait times at grain dumps, and so on. If net farm income is expected to be low, the per-bushel estimated tax difference created by Sec 199A dissipates.
Will producers form their own cooperatives or independents reorganize as a cooperative?
In local areas without grain/oilseed marketing cooperatives, the potential exists to see producers forming closed cooperative organizations to capitalize on the Sec 199A deduction. More likely, however, is that existing cooperatives acquire or build assets in those areas, or as mentioned above, form marketing arrangements with existing firms. In much of the Midwest, existing cooperatives are of sufficient size and capitalization and have the spatial presence to respond much faster to the need for capacity and changing grain dynamics than a start-up could accomplish. Alongside the temptation to form a cooperative, the new tax code creates incentives for producers to reconsider their own operation’s structure, potentially reorganizing as a C corporation or S corporation or changing from one to the other. Those details aren’t discussed here, but are complicating factors in determining how the farm economy might change if Sec 199A holds as written.
Effects on grain cooperatives
Producers will be impacted not only by the farm-level deduction of Sec 199A but, as members of cooperatives, stand to notice positive changes related to their cooperative’s patronage allocations and equity redemption. The tax savings to cooperatives on non-member business and the supply-side of their business are just like those for other corporations, and the new tax rate is 21% instead of a maximum of 35%. However, if the Sec 199A deduction for producers marketing through a cooperative holds, all producers selling grain to a cooperative will choose membership, effectively eliminating any non-member marketing business. That aside, tax savings on cooperative profits related to input supply or other non-marketing functions could be used to accelerate the cooperative’s equity redemption which gets income into the members’ hands more quickly. Alternatively, the tax savings could be used to improve facilities and service offerings to benefit members.
For those wanting more details, the fact sheet “Impact of Tax Reform on Agricultural Cooperatives” (Briggeman and Kenkel, 2018) dives into the expected changes in cooperative patronage allocation and member-level returns from the law using simulation.
The questions that fall out of the reality of the Sec 199A code as written are important ones, as their answers weigh on the potential for significant changes in the structure of the agricultural supply chain for crops, in grain movements, and in farm-level incomes.
In a statement on January 12, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach wrote, “The aim of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was to spur economic growth across the entire American economy, including the agricultural sector. While the goal was to preserve benefits in Section 199A for cooperatives and their patrons, the unintended consequences of the current language disadvantage the independent operators in the same industry. The federal tax code should not pick winners and losers in the marketplace. We applaud Congress for acknowledging and moving to correct the disparity, and our expectation is that a solution is forthcoming. USDA stands ready to assist in any way necessary.”
The agricultural industry–cooperatives, too–anticipated that the existing DPAD deduction would not stand in the tax reform negotiations, but thought a similar provision would replace it. Few, if any, anticipated that a cooperative deduction would be expanded to the producer-level, or believe it will stand as written. Organizations such as the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) are working jointly on a revision with Congress. Tax professionals, agricultural businesses, and producers are waiting for clarification on whether the law will stay as-is or be changed, and will then await guidance from the IRS on interpretation.
1969 Case 1160 Shucking Corn in January
Jacksonville, IL - Jon Brickey of Murrayville, Illinois decided to take advantage of the 50-degree weather January 25, 2018, to shuck corn with his vintage 1969 (circa) Case 1160 combine. University of Illinois Extension Farm Broadcaster Todd Gleason happened to be passing by and stopped to visit.
Farmers in the United States have been planting more and more acres to soybeans. There is a simple reason behind this increase. Soybeans have been more profitable than other crops over the last several years. The question now is how many acres will they plant next year. University of Illinois Commodity Markets Specialist Todd Hubbs has been thinking about that one and he decided to determine how many acres are needed if the stocks-to-use ratio was to stay at about 7%.
Hubbs says that number should provide a $9.50 season’s average cash price, “If we assume seven-percent stocks-to-use in 2018/2019 would give us $9.50, which would cover the cost of production in Illinois based on current projections, how many acres of soybeans national under those assumptions would we need given a trend yield? Based on a trend yield of about 46.8 bushels to the acre, and it may be higher than that in 2018, we would need about 88.4 million harvested acres to get $9.50 based on a seven-percent stocks-to-use.”
If you use USDA’s long-term trend line yield for next year, 48.4 bushels to the acre, then the harvested acreage number must drop to about 85.4 million in order to get to the $9.50 season’s average cash price. That’s 86.2 million acres planted to soybeans in the United States next spring.
The market is currently sending a signal of maintaining the record high soybean acreage of 2017, but the necessity for that level of soybean acreage in 2018 could deteriorate quickly under evolving market conditions. Todd Gleason has more with University of Illinois Commodity Markets Specialist Todd Hubbs.
Thirteen agricultural economists put together short papers describing issues that will surface during the writing of the next farm bill. For each issue, the author describes the “policy setting” and details “farm bill issues” that likely will arise during negotiations. Each issue then has a “what to watch for” summary. These papers, along with an overview, are presented in an article posted to the farmdocDaily website.