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.
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by Todd Hubbs, Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois
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Recent rumblings of potential tariffs by China on U.S. soybeans created a stir last week. While the market reacts to the uncertainty associated with trade policy, the upcoming WASDE report, on April 10, will update soybean use projections for this marketing year. The USDA may revise the forecast of ending stocks for soybeans during the current marketing year due to weaker than projected soybean export pace and stronger crush numbers.
The current USDA projection for soybean ending stocks during the 2017–18 marketing year sits at 555 million bushels, an increase of 130 million bushels since the November projection. The steady increase in ending stock projections is due to decreasing export projections. Current USDA soybean export projections for this marketing year are 2.065 billion bushels. On April 5, the Census Bureau released export estimates for February. The updated export estimates for soybeans brings totals for the first half of the marketing year to 1.433 billion bushels. Typically, soybean exports decline in the second half of the marketing year as South American production hits world markets. Due to this factor, the majority of soybeans tend to be exported in the first half of the marketing year.
Over the last decade, soybean exports during the first half of the marketing year averaged 76 percent of the final marketing year total. At the average pace, 2017–18 marketing year exports will come in at 1.886 billion bushels. While soybean exports should exceed this level, the current weakness in exports is reflected in five major export markets for soybeans. Through February, soybean exports to China, which typically accounts for 60 percent of U.S. exports, sit 11 percent behind the totals from the three previous marketing years during the same period. In conjunction with the lagging pace of Chinese exports, Japan and Indonesia sit 12 and 3 percent behind the pace of the previous three marketing years respectively. Mexico and Thailand imports of U.S. soybeans are up 3.2 and 110 percent under the same conditions.
Cumulative soybean export inspections through April 5 total 1.572 billion bushels. Through February of this marketing year, Census Bureau exports outpaced soybean export inspections by approximately 33 million bushels. If this difference continued, soybean exports through April 5 totaled 1.605 billion bushels. Soybean exports for the rest of the marketing year need to average 23 million bushels per week to reach the USDA projection. Soybean export inspections over the previous four weeks averaged 19.9 million bushels. Recent soybean export sales witnessed a jump last week as Brazilian export prices ran at a substantial premium to U.S. export prices. The sales indicate an expansion of purchases from buyers who typically leave the U.S. market to purchase Brazilian soybeans at this time of year.
If these buying opportunities continue, the potential for an uptick in export pace may be in order over the short run. At this time, soybean exports fall well short of the current projections and the possibility of a significant reduction in the soybean export projection appears likely.
While exports continue the weaker than projected pace, soybean crush is strengthening as the marketing year progresses. Current USDA projections for the 2017–18 marketing year crush sit at 1,960 million bushels. Estimates of monthly soybean crush from the Oilseed Crushings, Production, Consumption and Stocks report through February totaled 1.01 billion bushels. For the first half of the marketing year, USDA monthly crush numbers have run approximately 6.4 percent above last year’s crush estimates. Over the previous two marketing years, soybean crush during the first half of the marketing year averaged 51 percent of the final marketing year total. At this rate, the total crush for the marketing year would reach 1.98 billion bushels. Crush during the last half of the marketing year needs to total 950 million bushels to reach the USDA projection, 3 percent larger than last year over the same period.
In support of expanding crush levels, soybean meal exports are on pace to meet the 12.4 million short tons projected by the USDA. Through the first five months of the soybean meal marketing year, meal exports came in five percent above last year’s pace, at 5.508 million tons. Given a continuation of current soybean crush margins and export levels in soybean meal, the prospect of exceeding current USDA projections is quite high. While the USDA may not adjust crush totals in the upcoming report, the current crush pace indicates an increase of 20 million bushels in projected marketing year crush is feasible.
The potential for soybean crush levels to make up the difference for weak export totals is limited this marketing year. If the soybean export pace does not pick up substantially over the remainder of the marketing year, 2017–18 marketing year soybean ending stocks will increase. The current weather combined with trade policy issues make the soybean price susceptible to rapid changes as we move into planting season. A marketing plan for new crop soybeans should incorporate this information and provides pricing opportunities during near-term rallies.
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There is a rule of thumb for marketing that says “Consider the crop year normal until that is no longer the case.” Yesterday’s USDA Weekly Crop Progress report - despite the rainy weather - tells us the nation’s farmers are on pace this season. They’ve planted 84% of the corn crop and 53% of the soybeans. For University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs this suggests, at a minimum, farmers need to really think about making new crop soybean sales prior to the USDA’s June 30th Acreage Report.
Hubbs writes about commodity prices each week for the University of Illinois. Those articles are posted to the farmdocDaily website each Monday.
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Farmers have been a bit worried about getting into the field because of rains throughout the Midwest. It looks like those will clear out for the week, mostly, and even if they don’t, there isn’t much to worry about, yet. Todd Gleason has more on when the ag economist at the University of Illinois think late planting impacts the markets and yields.
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May corn futures’ prices tumbled to the lowest price level since December during the week ending March 24. Large crop estimates from around the world placed downward pressure on the corn market despite some positive domestic consumption numbers in exports and corn used for ethanol. Still, Todd Hubbs from the University of Illinois is hopeful there could be some support left in the corn market over time.
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USDA, at the end of this month, will let us know how much of the nation’s soybean crop there is left in the bin. It “should” be a fairly uneventful number.
by Todd Hubbs
read full farmdocDaily article
On March 31, the USDA will release the quarterly Grain Stocks report, with estimates of crop inventories as of March 1, and the annual Prospective Plantings report. For soybeans, the stocks estimate is typically overshadowed by the estimate of planting intentions. Usually, the quarterly stocks estimates for corn garners more interest because these reports reveal the pace of feed and residual use which is a large component of total corn consumption. The March 1 soybean stocks estimate this year may not provide much new information despite recent growth in marketing year ending stocks and concerns about the size of the South American crop… continue reading the full article by clicking here.
Generally, Todd Hubbs says it is pretty easy to figure out how many soybeans have been consumed. There is a regular reporting system for how many bushels are exported and one for how many are crushed. That second report, the crush, calculates how many soybeans are crushed in the United States into its two components. These are soybean meal and soybean oil. Hubbs, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois, says the reports make it easy enough to calculate disappearance, consumption, usage, whatever you want to call, and consequently come up with a number that approximates how many bushels are left to use. Hubbs’ March 1 grain stocks figure for soybeans is 1.68 billion bushels. Here’s the math he used to get there.
Quote Summary - Exports for the first quarter were 932 million bushels. For the second quarter, I have them pegged at about 721 million bushels. I have the second quarter crush at 491 million bushels. This brings the total crush for the first half of the marketing year to 976 million bushels. We’ve been crushing a really good rate, but we have a lot of soybeans. So, with USDA raising ending stocks to 435 million, if that number holds and we don’t drive those numbers down, and if the March 1 stocks number is 1.68 billion, it means the last half of the marketing year we are going to have to consume about 1.23 billion bushels.
Hubbs thinks that is a reasonable number. It depends, though, he says mostly on what happens in the export market through August.
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by Todd Hubbs
January 23, 2017 - Soybean prices increased dramatically over the week ending January 20 on reduced production estimates for the U.S. and increased uncertainty in the prospects for South American soybean production. Old crop soybean cash bid prices in central Illinois ended the week at approximately $10.40. New crop cash bid prices for harvest in central Illinois range between $9.90 and $9.94. The 2016–17 marketing year for soybeans, as it is currently shaping up, has a striking resemblance to 2015–16 marketing year expectations at this time last year. Despite the positive price outcome in 2016, a prudent soybean marketing plan for this year may possess some selling of 2017 soybeans in this price rally.
Currently, soybean production estimates for the United States in 2016 of 4.307 billion bushels is down one percent from the November forecast of 4.36 billion bushels but is still a record level of production. December 1 soybean stocks of 2.895 billion bushels came in 40 million bushels below trade expectations and indicated strong demand. The stocks estimate for the first quarter of the marketing year indicates a disappearance of 1.61 billion bushels. First quarter 2016–17 marketing year estimates of exports and crush came in at 932.5 million bushels and 484.9 million bushels respectively. Both numbers indicated substantial increases from last marketing year.
At this time last year, expectations for an increase in the number of acres planted in soybeans during 2016 and a potential record South American crop set up a scenario of significant downside risk for prices through the marketing year. The USDA forecasted ending stocks of U.S. soybeans at 440 million bushels on January 12, 2016. U.S. exports were forecast to be 153 million bushels less than the previous marketing year. Brazilian and Argentinian production ended up to be 136 million bushels smaller than expected in the January forecast and the substantial increase in planted acres did not materialize. U.S. exports ended the marketing year 245 million bushels higher than projected in January 2016, and ending stocks came in at 197 million bushels. Soybean cash prices reflected these events as the monthly average price for central Illinois increased from $8.64 in the first seven months of the marketing year to $10.26 in the last five months.
Currently, the WASDE report forecasts soybean crush and exports for the U.S. at 1.93 and 2.05 billion bushels respectively. At 420 million bushels, the ending stocks forecast is the largest since the 2006–07 marketing year. Projections of the U.S. 2016–17 marketing year average price place it in a range of $9.00 - $10.00, which positions current harvest cash bid prices in the upper end of this range. Many market observers believe a dramatic increase in soybean acreage will materialize in 2017. Estimates see the possibility of soybean acreage eclipsing corn acreage in 2017 due to the lower cost of production and large price differential currently in place with corn. The January 12 Winter Wheat Seedings report offered some support to this notion. Winter wheat plantings of 32.38 million acres are down 3.75 million acres from the previous year. This is the lowest level of winter wheat planting since 1909, and one could expect some of those acres switching to soybeans.
Forecasts by the USDA of Argentine soybean production currently sit at 2.09 billion bushels for the 2017 crop year. Numerous reports out of Argentina indicate the substantial flooding in the region may reduce production by 100 to 150 million bushels. Argentina soybean export forecasts stayed constant at 330 million bushels while import levels increased by 25.7 million bushels. Alternatively, Brazilian soybean production forecast increased by 73.48 million bushels over the December forecast to 3.79 billion bushels. The expected increase in soybean production levels led to a 40 million bushels increase in the forecast for Brazilian soybean exports. Taken together, USDA forecasts 5.91 billion bushels of soybean production and 2.51 billion bushels of soybeans exports from Brazil and Argentina over the marketing year. Currently, a realization of substantial production losses in Brazil and Argentina are necessary for total production in the two countries to fall to the 5.63 billion bushels seen in 2016.
While possessing similarities to last marketing year, the possibility of a strong downward price movement through 2017 is substantial. Despite strong soybean demand and production issues in South America, the possibility of a large increase in soybean acreage planted and the continuation of excellent soybean yields hang over the rest of this year. The March 31 prospective plantings report will provide the next major indication for soybean acreage for 2017. With so much production uncertainty in the U.S. and South America over the next few months, the current bids for 2017 harvest delivery provide a pricing opportunity for locking in prices high in the expected marketing year average price forecast. If producers are considering increasing soybean acreage in 2017, the current prices offer an opportunity, at a minimum, to price soybeans on the expanded acreage.
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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.”
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It is likely the export markets along with South American production prospects will drive only periodic price increases for corn and soybeans says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs in this interview with Todd Gleason.