That new #crudeoil low is not good for #ethanol or #corn. I did two interviews on this at the end of last week. One with Eric Mosbey during Commodity Week and one with Geoff Cooper from
@EthanolRFA @ScottIrwinUI & @jt_hubbs wrote an @farmdocDaily article, too.
The price of crude oil has reached a new contract low below $20 a barrel.
The ethanol industry is struggling under the weight of #COVID19 and the crude oil price war. I spoke with Geoff Cooper, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association about the situation. With crude in the $20s, #corn is too high for ethanol.
The estimated reductions in #ethanol use are 143 million gallons in March, 391 mln in April, and 207 mln in May, for a total reduction of 741 million gallons or 256 mln bushels of read-reduction-estimate-with-caution #corn write @ScottIrwinUI & @jt_hubbs.
Lincolnland Agri-Energy’s Eric Mosbey explains how #COVID19 and the low price of #crudeoil is affecting #ethanol plants like the one he runs. He also discusses what it means for #corn and feed coproducts.
The agricultural sector is caught up in a storm of change. Political and economic forces have been squeezing trade on the global front and U.S. farmers have been leaning into the winds. We take up a few of these topics in this edition of the WILLAg Newsletter.
Trade with China
Profile of USTR Lighthizer
USDA Ag Outlook Forum
Corn Acreage in 2019
Expected Corn vs Soybean Returns
2018 Ethanol Plant Losses
We’ll also explore these topics, marketing prospects, the price of farmland, and the weather during our March 5 All Day Ag Outlook. Hopefully, you can join us at the Beef House in Covington, Indiana. The cost is just $30 and includes Beef House coffee and rolls in the morning and Beef House lunch at the noon hour.
Tickets are available online or by calling 800–898–1065.
Hope to See You There!
Todd E. Gleason, Farm Broadcaster
University of Illinois Extension | WILLAg.org
Trade with China Friday the Chinese trade delegation gathered in the Oval Office with President Trump. A letter from President Xi was read out loud. It urged a continued push toward a final trade deal. The only firm detail to come out of the week’s worth of talks in Washington was a commitment to purchase 10mmt of soybeans. USDA issued an official release on the announcement. It did not include a timeline for the purchases. CNBC reported the Chinese had offered to guarantee purchases of $1.2 trillion dollars of U.S. goods. Again, there was no timeline issued and this point has not been confirmed by any other outlet, the White House, or the Chinese.
During the week the trade discussions in Washington, D.C. pointed to five MOU’s. These Memorandums of Understanding included one on agriculture and were how U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had decided to break down the issues in order to tackle them; agriculture, non-tariff barriers, services, technology transfer & intellectual property.
President Trump during the Oval Office meeting Friday pushed aside the MOU’s. He interrupted Trade Representative Lighthizer in front of the Chinese. Lighthizer was trying to explain how the MOUs would build the foundation of a trade deal. Mr. Trump stopped him and said, “I disagree. I think that a memorandum of understanding is not a contract to the extent that we want.” Lighthizer agreed that the term MOU would not be used again.
The important point in this exchange is likely not the MOU discussion. The President interrupted and corrected his lead trade negotiator in front of the Chinese delegation. Clearly, if a trade deal is to be struck it can only be done one-on-one between Presidents Trump and Xi. They may meet next month at Mar-A-Lago.
Mr. Trump has long focused on closing the trade gap with China. The other issues have not been of very much importance to him although he does mention China stealing and intellectual property rights. A trade deal with China is one of the President’s campaign promises. The dazzling $1.2 trillion number CNBC reported might be very enticing to a man who has had a habit of fulfilling his campaign promises.
If it is completed in this fashion, without enforcement mechanisms or real intellectual property rights protections, then as President Trump has said recently Democrats won’t go along. Republicans are likely to stay mum as the deal sets idle in Congress and simply becomes a presidential election year rallying cry. Presidents negotiate trade deals. Congress approves them.
Profile of USTR Lighthizer
NPR profiled Trade Representative Lighthizer this week. Please take six minutes to listen. It’ll be worth your while to know a whole lot more about the man leading the trade negotiations with China.
USDA Ag Outlook Forum This week USDA put on its 95th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum. It provides some initial numbers the trade uses to project the 2019 growing season into the markets until official USDA reports are issued. The first supply and demand report for the 2019/20 growing season will be issued in May. The March 29 Prospective Plantings report will provide survey results of what farmers think their acreage mix will look like this year. Here you will find some of the powerpoint slides U.S.D.A. Chief Economist Robert Johansson presented in the opening session and the full supply and demand tables presented Friday morning.
You may watch the full opening session of the 2019 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum. It took place in Washington, D.C. February 21 and 22.
The number of acres of corn planted this spring will be a key factor in determining where the price of corn goes. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs took up the issue in this week’s farmdocDaily article.
He starts with a historical graph. It shows the principal crop acres in the United States and how those have changed since 1997. Both corn and soybean acreage have increased. Combined they’re up about 10 percent over the past two decades.
Illinois’ Todd Hubbs uses that history to help put the number or corn and soybeans acres into perspective, “When we look at the harvest month corn to soybean futures price ratio this year it has been about 2.37. There is a definite signal in this graph from about 2006 to 2018 that if you are above 2.4 in that ratio, there will be less corn acreage. If you are below 2.3 there will be more corn acreage. We are, today, sitting right in between those. We’ve seen problems with field work in large parts of the corn belt. We’ve seen fertilizer and other input costs go up on corn. So, the idea that we are going to see a massive increase in corn acreage could happen, but under the current price structure we might not see the kind of corn acreage we think we are going to see.”
Hubbs says he used the 2019–20 futures prices to forward calculate a seasons average cash price for new crop corn. His calculation points to $3.81 per bushel. He then figured a stocks to use ratio that would fit that number, “I think an 11% stocks to use ratio in 2019–2020 would give us $3.81. If consumption is constant at 14.8 billion bushels from this marketing year to the next, that would put corn acreage around 91.7 million at a national trend line yield of 174.6 bushels to the acre.”
Finally, Hubbs says there isn’t a lot of weather premium priced into new crop corn futures. He also says there isn’t much of premium built in for a possible trade deal with China. Hubbs thinks that may be just as bullish for corn as it is for soybeans. Right now he thinks the 2.37 soybean/corn ratio feels high if the expectation is for a substantial increase in corn acreage.
Two factors have changed between the planning periods in 2018 and 2019. First, expected soybeans prices are lower in 2019 as compared to 2018. A reasonable way of forming expectations of cash prices at harvest is to use current bid prices for fall delivery of grain. In 2018, fall delivery prices for soybeans in the month of February averaged about $9.80 in East-Central Illinois. In 2019, fall delivery prices are roughly $.75 per bushel less at $9.05 (see Table 1). At the same time, fall delivery prices for corn are roughly the same at $3.70 per bushel. An $.75 decline in soybean price reduces expected soybean returns by $45 per acre given a soybean yield of 60 bushels per acre ($45 = .75 lower price x 60 bushels yield).
Second, costs have increased, with a primary contributor being increases in nitrogen fertilizer prices. Throughout much of 2018, anhydrous ammonia prices were in the low $500 per ton range (see Table 2). So far in 2019, anhydrous ammonia prices have averaged $607 per ton in January and $613 in February (see Table 2). Fall applications of nitrogen were limited in 2018 due to wet soil conditions, leading many farmers to have to price nitrogen in 2019. These farmers likely will pay around $100 per ton more for anhydrous ammonia in 2019 as compared to 2018. If 220 pounds of anhydrous ammonia are applied per acre, leading to an application of 180 pounds of elemental N (180 = 220 pounds x .82 N analysis of anhydrous ammonia), nitrogen fertilizer costs would increase in 2019 over 2018 levels by $11 per acre ($100 price increase per ton x 220 pounds of anhydrous ammonia per acre / 2000 pounds per ton).
The decrease in soybean price increases the relative profitability of corn. The increase in nitrogen fertilizer price decreases the relative profitability of corn, partially offsetting the impacts if the soybean price increase.
2019 Corn and Soybean Budgets
Table 3 shows 2019 corn and soybean budgets for high-productivity farmland in central Illinois (see farmdoc for 2019 Crop Budgets). These budgets incorporate price and cost changes between 2018 and 2019. Two notes about these budgets:
Yields are 213 bushels per acre for corn-after-corn and 63 bushels per acre for soybeans-after-corn. These are trend yields. In recent years, yields in Illinois have been above trend. Corn yields averaged 20 bushels above trend from 2014 to 2018 (farmdoc daily, January 3, 2018) while soybean yields have averaged 6.5 bushels above trend (farmdoc daily, December 11, 2018).
Prices used in budgets are $3.60 per bushel for corn and $8.50 per bushel for soybeans. The corn price is near fall delivery bids while the budgeted soybean price is about $.55 per bushel below the fall delivery bid. The lower budgeted soybean price reflects a general pessimism about soybean prices resulting from expected large supplies relative to demand (see farmdoc daily, January 28, 2019). This lower soybean price will decrease soybean profitability relative to corn, suggesting more of a shift to corn than a higher soybean price.
Operator and land returns are $188 per acre for corn and $180 per acre for soybeans, suggesting that corn will be more profitable than soybeans. However, this difference in profitability does not suggest a large shift in acres to corn. Most farms in central Illinois have a corn-soybean rotation, necessitating a move to corn-after-corn to grow more corn. Corn-after-corn returns are projected at $137 per acre, which are less than the $180 per acre soybean-after-corn return. These lower corn-after-corn returns suggest maintaining a corn-soybean rotation.
Other Budget Values Operator and land returns shown in Table 3 were recalculated for two different scenarios. First, a $9.00 soybean price was used to calculate soybean returns. The $9.00 price is close to fall bids. Given that corn prices do not change, operator and land returns for corn remain the same as those shown in Table 3:
corn-after-soybeans: $188 per acre, and
corn-after-corn: $137 per acre,
while soybean returns increase to:
soybeans-after-corn: $211 per acre, and
soybeans-after-two-years-corn: $229 per acre.
As would be expected, this price scenario increases soybean profitability relative to corn. Current forward bids do not suggest a shift to corn from a profitability standpoint.
The second scenario maintains the corn and soybean prices at $3.60 and $8.50, respectively, but increases corn yields by 20 bushels per acre and soybean yields by 6 bushels per acre. This scenario reflects a situation where budgets are more optimistic than trend yields due to high yields in recent years. In this case, operator and land returns are:
corn-after-soybeans (233 bushels per acre): $260 per acre
corn-after-corn (223 bushels per acre): $209 per acre
soybeans-after-corn (69 bushels per acre): $231 per acre
soybeans-after-two-years-corn (71 bushels per acre):$248 per acre
Higher yields increase returns and also increase the relative profitability of corn. However, corn-after-scorn is less profitable than soybeans-after-corn. These projections do not suggest that growing more corn would be more profitable than maintaining soybean acres given that both crops have above trend yields at 2013–2018 levels.
Summary and Conclusions
Current fall delivery prices do not suggest that switching to more corn away from soybeans will result in higher profitability on high-productivity farmland in central Illinois. Due to high relatively corn yields, central Illinois is one of the most profitable areas to grow corn relative to soybeans, If central Illinois budgets do not suggest a switch to corn, budgets in less productive areas likely will not suggest a shift from soybeans to corn.
University of Illinois Agricultural Economist and noted ethanol industry specialist Scott Irwin wrote an article detailing the financial losses the industry experienced last year. Use the link above to read the full article. Here’s the paragraph Irwin penned on the potential implications for ethanol going forward.
“The ethanol industry in 2018 experienced its first losing year since 2012, thereby ending a run of five consecutive years of positive returns. The estimated loss for a representative Iowa ethanol plant in 2018 was -$2.2 million. While large, the 2018 loss was still far less than the -$6.7 million loss in 2012. The evidence points to overproduction as the driving force behind the low prices and financial losses experienced by ethanol producers during 2018. The fortunes of the U.S. ethanol industry are unlikely to improve until production and use are better balanced. This will require shuttering some production capacity, additional demand, or some combination of the two. The most optimistic scenario is additional demand for U.S. ethanol exports as part of a trade deal with China.” - Scott Irwin, University of Illinois
Last Tuesday President Donald Trump made a campaign trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa. There he told a very excited crowd his administration would be backing corn farmers and ethanol.
The President leaned into the mic and gave corn farmers a little insider news they’ve been clamoring to hear since U.S. EPA pronounced gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol would be ok to use in all cars made since 2001, “We are a little bit early. I shouldn’t say it now, but we are going with E15 year-round.”
Mr. Trump is a little early. Today E15 can be used about 9 months out of the year in much of the nation. During those other three months, the summer months, it has been prohibited. U.S. EPA will need to write some rules about how to make the year-round use happen. Those will need to be approved, and clearly the oil industry will mount court challenges.
If all goes well more corn will be used to make ethanol for E15, but it won’t make a difference in the balance sheets for corn says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Scott Irwin, “Not for this year and I am confident not for next year.”
So the E15 announcement, while a long run win for corn ethanol, rings a little hollow. The Administration’s other big farm country biofuels problem is EPA’s use of the Small Refinery Exemptions or SRE. The good news here, says Illinois’ Irwin, is that ethanol usage has been holding strong despite EPA letting some refineries out of the mandate to produce gasoline blended with a home grown fuel like ethanol made from corn.
However, there is a problem with oil pressed from soybeans to make biodiesel says Irwin, “And the total amount of biodiesel, because of the Small Refinery Exemptions, has probably gone down at least 10 percent. So, there has been real demand destruction from the Small Refinery Exemptions, but it is in biodiesel and not ethanol.”
US EPA has through November to announce its final decisions related to the volume of biofuels it will require in the nation’s gasoline supply in 2019. It may or may not include some guidance on how it expects to use the Small Refinery Exemptions going forward. So far, it has said it will make no comment on that point.
President Trump at his Council Bluffs, Iowa rally Tuesday is expected to announce a waiver to allow year-round use of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol (E15). Todd Gleason reports it may make little difference in how much corn is used to make ethanol.
There is widespread interest in whether small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the RFS have “destroyed” demand for ethanol in the physical market. Todd Gleason discusses the point with University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin.
During a U.S. Senate hearing, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler answered questions about ethanol, biofuels, the RFS, and small refinery waivers. He appears to be holding the same line Scott Pruitt took during his time at the helm of the agency with some notable differences.
Farmers gathered at the CUTC in St. Louis this week (June 4, 5, 6) to learn about future uses for the nation’s number one commodity crop.
The Corn Utilization and Technology Conference is organized by NCGA or the National Corn Growers Association. It happens every two years and is dedicated to exploring future uses of corn. Vijay Singh is a regular. He works for the agricultural college at the University of Illinois and specializes in engineering ethanol processing plants. Singh sees them expanding to include biochemical production in the near future, “That’s the big thing right now and for that, we need large amounts of sugar. The U.S. is at a major advantage in terms of producing sugars from corn and that comes from the corn processing industry.”
The corn processing industry has long focused on creating food products, high fructose corn syrup, ethanol and some other co-products. However, now that sugar, rather than crude oil, has become the preferred feedstock for producing high-value biochemicals that are used to create consumer products, things like polymers, there is a place for corn in that pipeline.
The U of I engineer says because it is economically feasible dry-grind ethanol plants are starting to produce sugar along with producing ethanol. Those sugars can then be used to produce biochemicals. The biochemicals made from a renewable source, corn, are taking the place of petrochemicals.
The first week of April has been tumultuous for American agriculture. Todd Gleason talks with Jonathan Coppess about how the Trump Administration has been handling trade with China, the NAFTA negotiations, and biofuels.
The recent strength in ethanol production has led to speculation about changes to USDA’s estimate of corn used for ethanol in the pending WASDE report. Ethanol production for the week ending December 1 set a new ethanol production record with an average of 1.108 million barrels per day, continuing eight consecutive weeks of more than a million barrels a day of production. Currently, the WASDE forecast for corn consumption for ethanol production is 5.475 billion bushels, up 36 million bushels from 2016–17 marketing year estimates. The ability to surpass this projection is possible, but foreign demand for ethanol will be crucial as we move into 2018.
Domestic ethanol consumption is influenced by domestic gasoline consumption, due to the ethanol blending requirement, and the biofuels volume requirement associated with the Renewable Fuels Standard. The EPA final rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard for 2018 was released on November 30. The renewable fuels volume requirement is set at 19.29 billion gallons for 2018, up slightly from the 19.28 billion gallons required in 2017. The conventional ethanol requirement is set at 15 billion gallons for 2018, the same as in 2017 and equal to the statutory requirement level. If the gasoline consumption forecast used by the EPA is correct, the E–10 blend wall will be near 14.3 billion gallons in 2018. The EPA believes an ethanol supply of 15 billion gallons is reasonably attainable in 2018 with a total domestic capacity of 16 billion gallons. Since the ethanol blending requirements did not change, the possibility for greater corn usage in 2018 due to blending is low unless gasoline consumption increases beyond current expectations.
According to the most recent Energy Information Agency (EIA) Short Term Energy Outlook, U.S. retail gasoline price is projected to average $2.45 per gallon in 2018, an increase of five cents from the current expected price in 2017. Despite the projection of higher gasoline prices, gasoline consumption is forecast at 143.27 billion gallons in 2018. The 2018 gasoline consumption projection is up from the 143.03 billion gallons projected for consumption in 2017. EIA’s forecast of ethanol production is set at 1.04 million barrels per day. If the EIA projection is correct, approximately 15.9 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2018. To exceed the current USDA projections for corn use in ethanol, exports need to repeat the impressive performance of the 2016–17 marketing year.
Ethanol export numbers are available from U.S. Census trade data for 2017 through October. For the 2017 calendar year, U.S. exports of ethanol are at 1.09 billion gallons, up almost 16.6 percent from the similar period in 2016. A note of caution is warranted when considering ethanol exports in the current marketing year. During the first two months of this marketing year, ethanol exports are down 19 percent from previous marketing year levels. The large reduction is due to drastically lower export levels to Brazil and China. Chinese imports of U.S. ethanol are minimal thus far in the marketing year. Brazilian ethanol imports from the U.S. are down 49 percent from last year for the first two months. During the 2016–17 marketing year, U.S. ethanol exports totaled 1.37 billion gallons, with exports to Brazil comprising 36.5 percent of the total. The imposition of the 20 percent tariff rate quota on Brazilian ethanol imports on September 4 is curtailing Brazilian imports. The tariff becomes active at export levels greater than 150 million liters per quarter (39.6 million gallons) and restarted in December. U.S. ethanol exports will require increases in other markets to meet or exceed the export levels attained during the 2016–17 marketing year.
Corn consumption levels for ethanol production during this marketing year is provided in the USDA Grain Crushing and Co-Product Production report. Grain crushing for fuel alcohol is available through October. For the first two months of the marketing year, 915.6 million bushels of corn has been processed for ethanol. The grain crush is up 2.8 percent from 2016–17 marketing year processing numbers over the same period. Using EIA weekly ethanol production numbers, November ethanol production averaged over 1 million barrels per day. These production levels place corn use for ethanol production in a range of 555 to 565 million bushels for the month. With a conservative estimate of corn crush in November, total corn consumption for ethanol production through the first quarter of the marketing year would be well above the current WASDE projection. While this is an encouraging sign for corn use, ethanol stocks have risen for five consecutive weeks to reach 22.5 million barrels as of December 1, a level not attained since June. During the same period last year, ethanol stocks fell around 700,000 barrels under strong export demand.
The December WASDE report may increase the corn use in ethanol projection due to the strong production during the first quarter of the marketing year. Lower ethanol export totals and growing ethanol stocks may create a wait and see scenario. Another strong year of ethanol production is highly likely, but flat projections for gasoline consumption and lower ethanol export levels may limit growth over last marketing year’s performance.
The courts have ruled in favor of biofuels made from corn and soybeans.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. under took a case to define the meaning of three words in the Renewable Fuel Standard written by the United States Congress. The three words, a phrase, are “inadequate domestic supply”. Congress through them says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Scott Irwin granted the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, the right to grant a waiver allowing energy producers not to follow the law, “Which commonsense would say, yes, you need that kind of escape clause in the statute that would say if a biofuel is not being produced you cannot require someone to consume it.”
The Obama Administration’s EPA interpreted the clause to also mean inadequate domestic demand, and consequently limited the mandated use of biofuels in the United States. The court ruled on how the EPA limited biofuels in 2016, however, it may be, thinks Irwin, that EPA will need to make good actions it took in 2014, 2015 and 2016. This may mean the gallons of biofuels not mandated for use in those three years will have to be produced and used says Irwin, “That’s right, and they even conveniently provided a table in the ruling with their calculations of how much mandate was waived that should not have been. In the three years this added up to 2.24 billion gallons of ethanol equivalents was at play in the cuts that have now been basically declared illegal.”
In the three years this added up to 2.24 billion gallons of ethanol equivalents at play in the cuts that have now been basically declared illegal.
It would take about 800 million bushels of corn to make that much ethanol. However, because there are two parts to the RFS relating to ethanol, it’s not likely corn based ethanol will be the big winner when it comes to making up the lost gallons thinks Scott Irwin, “Because of the E–10 blend wall I think, ultimately, the beneficiary of this will be biodiesel or more broadly speaking biomass based diesel. It has been filling the gaps in the E–10 blend wall in the ethanol mandate for a number of years and I don’t see why that would change dramatically with this rule making.”
Because of the E–10 blend wall I think, ultimately, the beneficiary of this will be biodiesel…
The back fill will require about one-point-five billion gallons of biodiesel. It would use about 11 billion pounds of feed stock. The number one feed stock is soybean oil.
by Scott Irwin & Darrel Good, Agricultural Economists
University of Illinois read full blog post
We analyzed the magnitude of the “push” in production and consumption of biofuels implied by the proposed rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) for 2018 released last week. We find that the proposed standard for 2018 implies a measurable push in the consumption of conventional ethanol since the mandate exceeds expected domestic consumption. The magnitude of that gap is estimated at 640 million gallons for 2018, compared to the estimate for a record large gap in 2017 of 738 million gallons. The gap ranged from 260 to 457 million gallons in 2014–2016. The advanced biofuels mandate is estimated at 684 million gallons in 2018, compared to the estimate of 900 million gallons in 2017 and the actual gap of 438 million gallons in 2016. Our analysis of the proposed rulemaking for 2018 implies:
(1) The EPA under the new Administration is “staying the course” on the implied conventional ethanol mandate with that mandate at the statutory level of 15 billion gallons. If that policy continues and the rate of increase in domestic gasoline consumption does not accelerate more rapidly, there will continue to be a notable conventional ethanol gap beyond 2018.
(2) The push in advance biofuels production and consumption remains large, but is smaller than in 2017 as both the total biofuels mandate dropped and the mandate for undifferentiated advanced biofuels declined marginally. However, the minimum undifferentiated mandate will increase by statute in 2019 to 4.5 billion gallons. So, even though the biodiesel mandate is proposed to stay constant at 2.1 billion gallons for 2019, the total advanced mandate gap could jump another 260 million gallons (4.5 –4.24 billion gallons).
(3) The relatively large conventional ethanol gap implied for 2017 and 2018 suggests that the current discount in the price of D6 (ethanol) RINs relative to D4 (biomass-based diesel) RINs will continue to narrow towards equality (e.g., farmdoc daily, December 4, 2015).
(4) Biomass-based diesel is likely to remain the “marginal gallon” for filling both the conventional and advanced mandate gaps. This means relatively large levels of biodiesel production will continue to be required which in turn will require large levels of fats and oils feedstock.
There has been much debate and much written about the likely costs and benefits of including ethanol in the domestic gasoline supply. Costs and benefits fall into two major categories–environmental and economic (e.g., Stock, 2015). One economic consideration is the potential impact on domestic gasoline prices from augmenting the gasoline supply with biofuels. A second economic consideration, and one that has received the most attention, is the cost of ethanol relative to petroleum-based fuel. What has been missing from the analysis of the value of ethanol in the gasoline blend is an estimate of the net value of ethanol based on: i) an energy penalty relative to gasoline; and ii) an octane premium based on the lower price of ethanol relative to petroleum sources of octane.
University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Scott Irwin discusses rumors driving the commodity markets Tuesday, February 28, 2017 related to biofuels and the Trump administration with U of I Extension Farm Broadcaster Todd Gleason.
A University of Illinois agricultural economist has been thinking about the supply and demand for corn in the United States and elsewhere.
U.S. farmers harvested more than fifteen billion bushels of corn last fall. That’s a very, very big crop. It is expected there will be more than the usual amount leftover from it by the time the next crop comes in. Todd Hubbs has been thinking a lot about that and how the corn crop is used. He says exports have been strong. Factually 69% of what USDA thinks will be shipped out, has either been shipped or booked, already. And, we’re not even half-way into the marketing year.
Todd Hubbs - So, meeting that 2.25 billion bushels USDA projected for exports looks feasible right now, but we do have the South American crop coming on to compete. So far exports look strong. I am a little concerned about some of the policy issues surrounding our export market, but at this point it is a wait-and-see scenario in my mind.
Exports are the smallest primary component of corn consumption at a projected two-and-a-quarter billion bushels. Next up is ethanol at five-billion-three-hundred-twenty-five million. Those numbers suggest this sector is booming.
Ethanol production has hit record levels of over a million barrels per day for the last two months. However, over the last couple of weeks ethanol stocks have started to build. This means the ethanol margins are starting to deteriorate. Hubbs says production could slow, but maintains the consumption pace for ethanol will be pretty strong in the near-term.
The last and largest segment of corn consumption to explore is feed usage. USDA in January estimated five-point-six billion bushels of corn would be fed to livestock. It is a really hard number to calculate says U of I’s Todd Hubbs.
Hubbs - You never know how much corn is being consumed as we move through the marketing year. Still, livestock numbers are up almost across the board. The hog herd is up. Broiler placements and egg settings are up one to two percent a week. So, when we look at the livestock sector there is a lot of livestock production going on. Having said that, the initial number USDA projected at the beginning of the marketing year has been reduced by 50 million bushels.
Some of that is because of competition to use the corn in the ethanol industry and some because of substitution. There is more available sorghum to feed and it can be cheaper than corn. In the near term Todd Hubbs says the consumption pattern should keep the price of corn in Chicago mostly in its current trading range. That’s somewhere between $3.40 and $3.70 per bushel.
Ethanol production in the United States ended the year on a record-setting note. It could mean an even bigger number for the corn-based fuel in 2017.
The U.S. ethanol industry ended 2016 on a high note. Ethanol production for the week ending Dec. 30 set a new ethanol production record with an average of 1.043 million barrels per day. The March futures price for corn moved higher last week to close at $3.58 in large part due to strength in the ethanol sector. Ethanol production and exports returned strong numbers over the first quarter of the marketing year. Currently, the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report forecast for corn consumption for ethanol production is 5.3 billion bushels. According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, when taking into account an increase in projected gasoline consumption in 2017 and robust ethanol export levels, the ability to surpass this projection is a strong possibility.
“Domestic ethanol consumption in 2017 will be influenced by domestic gasoline consumption, due to the ethanol blending requirement and the biofuels volume requirement associated with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Hubbs says. “The EPA final rulemaking for the Renewable Fuels Standard for 2017 was released on Nov. 23 and is discussed in greater detail in the farmdoc daily article posted Nov. 30. In brief, the renewable fuels volume requirement is set at 19.28 billion gallons for 2017, which is up from the 18.11 billion gallons required in 2016.
“The conventional ethanol requirement is set at 15 billion gallons for 2017, 500 million gallons larger than 2016 and equal to the statutory requirement level,” Hubbs says. “If the gasoline consumption forecast used by the EPA is correct, the E10 blend wall will be 14.36 billion gallons in 2017. The EPA believes an ethanol supply of 14.56 billion gallons is reasonably attainable in 2017. Within the 14.56 billion gallons, E15 and E85 blends are expected to be 107 and 204 million gallons respectively. The ability to attain the E15 and E85 blend levels remains to be seen, but the increase in ethanol requirements provides support for greater corn usage in 2017.”
U.S. retail gasoline prices averaged $2.14 per gallon in 2016, which is 12 percent less than the price experienced in 2015 and is the lowest price since 2004. The December Energy Information Agency Short Term Energy Outlook projected an increase in gasoline prices for 2017 to $2.30 per gallon. Despite the projection of higher gasoline prices, gasoline consumption is forecast at 143.60 billion gallons in 2017, which is up from the 142.72 billion gallons consumed in 2016. Ethanol production is forecast to be 1 million barrels per day.
“If the EIA projection is correct, approximately 15.3 billion gallons of ethanol will be produced in 2017,” Hubbs says. “When considering the robust ethanol export trade currently in process, the U.S. ethanol industry is expected to produce a record level of ethanol in 2017.”
Ethanol export numbers are available from U.S. Census trade data for 2016 through November. U.S. exports of ethanol thus far are at 948 million gallons, which is up almost 27 percent from the similar period in 2015.
According to Hubbs, for 2016, the prospect of ethanol exports exceeding 1 billion gallons is not unreasonable.
Canada, China, and Brazil imported approximately 67 percent of the ethanol shipped from the U.S. through November. “The increase in ethanol exports is driven largely by increased volumes sent to China and Brazil,” Hubbs says. “China imported 179 million gallons through November, which far exceeds the 73.8 million gallons imported during the entirety of 2015. Brazil imported 224 million gallons through November, which is almost double from 2015. As we progress into 2017, the increases are expected to persist in Brazil because high sugar prices are expected to decrease ethanol production as mills allocate cane for sugar production in 2017. There is concern that China could raise ethanol tariffs and reduce ethanol imports in 2017 due to a possible trade dispute with the new administration.”
Hubbs says the implications for corn consumption during the 2016–17 marketing year can be seen in the USDA Grain Crushing and Co-Product Production report released on Jan. 3. Grain crushing for fuel alcohol is available through November. For the first three months of the marketing year, 1.34 billion bushels of corn has been processed for ethanol. This is up 3.2 percent from 2015 processing numbers.
“If corn used for ethanol production maintains this pace, 5.37 billion bushels will be processed in the marketing year,” Hubbs says. “Using EIA weekly ethanol production numbers, December ethanol production averaged over 1 million barrels per day. These production levels place corn use for ethanol production in a range of 455 to 460 million bushels for the month if corn use maintains the pace of the three previous months. With a conservative estimate of corn crush in December, total corn consumption for ethanol production through the first third of the marketing year would be above the current WASDE projection.
“Lower corn prices, strong ethanol exports, and greater blending requirements combine to make 2017 appear to be a strong year for corn consumption in ethanol production,” Hubbs concludes. “If the U.S. ethanol industry produced over 1 million barrels per day for the entire year, the ability to blend at requirement levels under an expanded gasoline consumption scenario and meet potential export market demand bodes well for corn use in the sector for 2017.”
Ethanol was a factor in both the price run-up that began in 2006 and the price run-down that began in 2013. Tepid growth replaced explosive growth. The question for the future is, “What is ethanol’s organic growth rate (growth without government policy stimulus)?” Recent history suggests growth will continue in the corn ethanol market, but it likely will be notably lower than the growth in yields. Thus, upward pressure on corn prices is less likely. Corn Ethanol in Historical Perspective
US Department of Agriculture data on US corn processed into US ethanol begin with the 1980 crop. It is reported monthly in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Corn processed into ethanol grew at an average annual rate of 6% between 1985 and 2000, exploded to a 24% annual growth rate between 2000 and 2010, then slowed to 1% per year after 2010 Ethanol Growth vs. Yield Growth. The explosive growth in the first decade of this Century largely coincides with the impact of government policies. These policies first led to the use of ethanol as an oxygenate additive in gasoline, then to the use of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline and by extension oil The latter was accomplished through mandates on market size enacted by Congress in 2005 and 2007.
Return to Equity for Processing Corn into Ethanol
Since January 2005, Iowa State University has issued a monthly report on the costs and returns to processing corn into ethanol. The report is based on (1) a model plant created using best available information and (2) current prices for corn, ethanol, natural gas, and distillers dried grain. Among the measures calculated is a return on equity. Figure 2 reports the average of monthly returns to equity by crop year. Even though growth in the ethanol market slowed dramatically after 2010, average return on equity remained positive for the 2011–2015 crop years (13%). As expected, return on equity was higher for the 2005–2010 crop years (30%). For additional discussion of the return to processing corn into ethanol, see Irwin, 2016.
Ethanol Growth vs. Yield Growth
A measure of growth in demand (growth in corn processed into ethanol expressed as a percent of corn production) is compared with a measure of growth in supply (growth in US corn yield). To illustrate the calculation of these measures, 3.71 billion bushels of corn was processed into ethanol in the 2008 crop year, 0.66 billion bushels more than processed in the 2007 crop year. US production of corn in 2007 was 13.04 billion bushels. The growth in corn processed into ethanol was +5.1% of 2007 corn production (0.66/13.04). US yield of corn per planted acre was 151 bushels in 2008 vs. 149 bushels in 2007. Rate of growth was +1.3% [(151/149) - 1]. These two measures were calculated for each crop year.
Yield growth strongly exceeded the growth in corn used to produce ethanol relative to corn production before 2000 and after 2010 (see Figure 3). The two measures increased at about the same rate (2%) between 2000 and 2005. Between 2005 and 2010, growth in corn used to produce ethanol relative to production strongly exceeded growth in corn yields. Not only did corn processed into ethanol increase dramatically during the latter period, but the growth in corn yields was also abnormally low. Reinforcing these bullish price factors was China’s rapidly growing demand for soybeans (see Zulauf, 2016).
From the perspective of 2016, expansion of the US corn ethanol market was largely squeezed into the 10 years from 2000 to 2010 (83% of the expansion occurred in these years).
The squeeze was largely driven by US policy decisions.
At the same time that policy was strongly pushing demand, growth in corn yields suddenly slowed, with a likely explanation being a multiple year period of suboptimal growing conditions.
However, the increase in demand for corn ethanol spurred by policy would have exceeded the growth in yield even during the high yield growth period of 1980 to 2000.
The result was not just an increase in corn price but an explosive increase in corn price.
This price increase increasingly looks unsustainable as yield growth returns to a path closer to history and ethanol growth returns to a level more consistent with long term organic growth due to market incentives, not policy factors.
If the preceding point holds, agriculture will need to make painful adjustments as it enters a world that will likely look more like 1980–2000 than 2005–2010.
Nothing in the historical review suggests that the corn ethanol market would not have developed. The continuing positive return to equity since 2010 suggests the market is sustainable. In particular, ethanol appears to have carved out a role as a competitive source of octane for gasoline, which is translating into a growth in exports of ethanol. For additional discussion of this topic, see Irwin and Good, 2016. But, annual organic growth is slower and unlikely to exceed the growth in yields.
This 35 year story does however raise caution about using policy to expand markets.
In particular, the design of such policy needs to respect the underlying private market, including attributes such as sustainable non-publically subsidized growth; role of competing demand components, such as livestock in the case of ethanol; and the scope and magnitude for supply growth to be uncertain and how this uncertainty may interact with policy induced demand growth.
Interesting, important, but probably unanswerable questions are what would be the current state of the corn ethanol market and by extension corn prices if government policy had not intervened and more narrowly if the 2007 mandate had not been enacted. The answers to these questions may tell us more about the future of corn and other field crop prices than any other set of questions.
Commodity traders are generally thinking last week’s EPA RFS rule making will cause more bushels of corn to be turned into ethanol next year. Todd Gleason reports University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good is more doubtful.
Let’s start by building a corn for ethanol baseline to see why. The EIA, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, says U.S. production of fuel ethanol in 2014 totaled 14 billion 313 million gallons. That was about a billion gallons more than in 2013, and nearly 400 million gallons more than the record setting year of 2011. So, 14.313 billion gallons of ethanol were produced in 2014. During the first nine months of this year, writes Darrel Good on the Farm Doc Daily website, EIA shows production 3.6 percent larger than during the same 9 months last year. It appears October and November were on that same track, and while December looks to be off a bit, it should leave the yearly consumption at a whooping and record setting 14.745 billion gallons says U of I’s Good.
Quote Summary - Production at that level will require about 5.25 billion bushels of feedstock, mostly corn, for conventional ethanol production in 2015.
So the baseline is big, but let’s start back figuring for 2016 corn usage to make ethanol. U.S. EPA just released biofuels volumes for 2016. Those standards point to conventional ethanol consumption of 14.5 billion gallons for 2016. It’s about a 500 million gallon year-to-year increase says Good, however there is a second related factor. That factor is the blend wall, or how much gasoline is actually consumed in the United States .
Quote Summary - Based on EIA projections, consumption is expected to increase from 139.38 billion gallons in 2015 to 139.96 billion gallons in 2016. That expected increase of 580 million gallons follows an expected increase of 2.9 billion gallons in 2015. The conventional ethanol mandate of 14.5 billion gallons, then, reflects an expected small increase in the E–10 blend wall and a “push” to include larger quantities of higher ethanol blends (E–15 and E–85) in the domestic fuel supply. If the 2016 gasoline consumption forecast is correct, the E–10 blend wall will be 13.996 billion gallons.
Now, since some gasoline is consumed without ethanol and some with higher ethanol blends, the effective E–10 blend wall is actually thought to be 9.9 percent of consumption or 13.856 billion gallons. Here’s the back figure. Subtract from this number imported ethanol, add in a few additional E85 gallons, and total 2016 consumption of conventional ethanol says Darrel Good is not roughly 500 million gallons more than this year, but rather about the same as this year - though that 500 million gallon gap will still have to be filled.
Quote Summary - The difference between the RFS requirement of 14.5 billion gallons and the projected consumption of 13.903 billion gallons (597 million gallons) would have to be met with some combination of retirement of RINs stocks, additional quantities of E–85, or blending of additional quantities of advanced biofuels.
This outcome is very different from the initial reaction that an increase in the implied conventional ethanol requirement from the preliminary to final rule making for 2016 of 500 million gallons would result in a measurable increase in feedstock - corn - consumption.