The farmdoc team at the University of Illinois has created a model projecting the average fall price for corn and soybean futures in October. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey says, at USDA’s current projected yields, it puts December corn futures at $3.10 and November Soybean futures at $8.36.
Given current yield estimates, a statistical model suggests that the harvest price for crop insurance in Midwest states will be near $3.10 per bushel. Higher yields, above current estimates, would be expected to result in lower prices and vice versa. Thus, higher prices could happen if 2020 yields are lower than the trend. Conversely, an above trend yield would likely result in lower prices. A harvest price below $3.00 per bushel is a distinct possibility with above trend yields.
Given current yield estimates, a statistical model suggests that the harvest price for crop insurance in Midwest states will be near $8.36 per bushel. Higher yields, above current estimates, would be expected to result in lower prices and vice versa. Thus, higher prices could happen if 2020 yields are lower than the trend. Conversely, an above trend yield would likely result in lower prices. A harvest price below $8.00 per bushel is a distinct possibility with above trend yields.
It sure looks like COVID–19 is going to do some serious damage to the nation’s corn and soybean farmers. A new study from the University of Illinois estimates the damage at about eight billion dollars. This was the case on May the 5th.
That eight billion is a decline of nine percent across the nation and ILLINOIS Extension Ag Economist Gary Schnitkey says it does not include losses that have already piled up for corn and soybeans still in the bin from last year, "If you look at the 2019 crop, obviously there are losses on the 2019 crop from the sales value, we were looking forward at the 2020 crop and getting a feel for the losses on the 2020 crop."
That loss Gary Schnitkey is talking about is the difference between what farmers were expecting to make pre-COVID–19 and what they are likely to make post-COVID–19 on the 2020 corn and soybean harvest, "So we took the futures prices on that date to reflect what harvest prices would look like, projected forward the market-year-average based on that harvest price, and came up with estimates of losses given those futures prices today (May 5, 2020). We kept the trend-line yields the same, so the calculations would only show the (COVID–19) price decline as what’s happened to revenue."
The farmdoc Daily article shows these projected lost revenues by crop, but notes that, conceptually, this does not work in practice because commodity programs make payments on base acres combined not actual planted acres. Still, it provides an important guidepost. The per acre revenue difference for corn from February to May is $107 per acre. Again these are national averages and do not include any government payments. For soybeans, it is $36 per acre.
Combined the total nationwide loss from February to May is about $12 billion for the 2020 corn and soybean growing season. A projected PLC payment for corn covers about one-third of that loss says one of the articles co-authors, Ohio State University Ag Economist emeritus Carl Zulauf, "The eight-billion-dollar estimate in the article is after we’ve taken out our estimate of the PLC payment. The PLC payment right now is only for corn at the average. We do two estimates. One for a low price and one for an average price relationship. But the PLC payment at the average price relationship is covering about one-third of the total cost. So, in other words, it is around twelve-billion, but if you net it out you get to the eight-billion-dollars."
The eight-billion-dollar loss uses a basis calculation related directly to crop insurance. Stay with me here. It is the Market-Year-Average Cash Price minus the Crop Insurance Harvest Price. That’s 8 under for corn and 2 under for soybeans. If you use a wider basis under a low price scenario, say where there is a burdensome ending stocks number, those are 28 under for corn and 43 under for soybeans. In that case revenue loss is over $10 billion.
You may read the article summarizing the impact of COVID–19 on a corn and soybean farm on the farmDOC daily website.
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 highly anticipated release of USDA’s crop production and ending stocks reports last Friday created a somewhat negative tone in corn and soybean markets. Despite the slightly bearish tilt, prices for both commodities closed higher on Friday. The pending phase one trade agreement and South American production prospects look to set the tone for prices over the near term. - Todd Hubbs, ILLINOIS Extension
by Todd Hubbs, University of Illinois
link to original farmdocDaily article
Corn production for the U.S. in 2019 came in at 13.69 billion bushels, up 31 million bushels from the previous forecast on higher national average yields. Average corn yield of 168 bushels per acre is one bushel higher than the previous forecast. The harvested acreage estimate of 81.5 million acres is down from the November forecast of 81.8 million acres. Current production estimates for corn show eight percent of the crop still in the field and open the estimate to possible revision in the future.
December 1 corn stocks came in at 11.39 billion bushels. The estimate is 122 million bushels below trade expectations and indicates a total disappearance of 4.53 billion bushels in the first quarter of the marketing year. The USDA’s revision of the September 1 corn stocks higher by 107 million bushels along with greater production indicates a massive feed and residual use component in the first quarter.
At 5.525 billion bushels, the WASDE forecast for corn feed use and residual moved up by 250 million bushels from the previous forecast for the 2019–20 marketing year. Despite the significant boost in consumption from feed and residual, projected ending stocks fell only 18 million bushels from the previous forecast. Consumption projection for categories other than feed and residual fell 95 million bushels. While the corn use for ethanol forecast stayed steady at 5.375 billion bushels, the forecast for other industrial purposes decreased by 20 million bushels to 1.395 billion bushels. The forecast for corn exports dropped 75 million bushels to 1.775 billion bushels due to the continuation of weak export numbers through the first four months of the marketing year. The pending trade deal with China holds the promise for change in some of the consumption totals.
The phase one trade deal due to be signed sometime this week still lacks specificity. While the administration continues to tout agricultural export increases near $16 billion over 2017 totals of $24 billion, very little confirmation from the Chinese side has come forth thus far. The Chinese indicated that they would not exceed their global quota on corn imports for any individual country in 2020. The quota for corn stands at 7.2 million metric tons (near 283 million bushels). Through November of 2019, Census data indicates China imported 12.3 million bushels of corn from the U.S. during the calendar year. There remains plenty of room for increased Chinese imports of U.S. corn and corn-related products in 2020 despite the quota. Details surrounding the trade deal matter and look to help shape price prospects for corn over the next few months.
Foreign production projections for corn in the 2019–20 marketing year moved up slightly due to an increase in the European Union and Russian production. Brazil’s corn production forecast stayed at 3.98 billion bushels. Concerns about production losses for first crop corn in southern Brazil due to dry conditions continue to evolve. Strong domestic corn prices in Brazil point to producers planting the safrinha crop even if planting is later than ideal in many areas. Argentinian production forecasts stayed at 1.97 billion bushels. The forecast for Argentina and Brazil corn exports sit at 2.73 billion bushels, 335 million bushels lower than last marketing year. Given the current forecast for South American exports, the evolution of crop conditions in the region, particularly on the Brazilian safrinha crop, hold important implications for corn exports during the coming year.
Soybean production for the U.S. in 2019 totaled 3.558 billion bushels, up 8 million bushels from the previous forecast on higher national average yields. The national average soybean yield of 47.4 bushels per acre is 0.5 bushels higher than the previous forecast. The harvested acreage estimate of 75 million acres is down from the prior forecast of 75.6 million acres. Current production estimates for soybeans indicate two percent of the crop remains in the field. December 1 soybean stocks came in at 3.252 billion bushels, 66 million bushels above trade expectations.
The WASDE report maintained consumption and ending stock projections at the same levels seen in the last forecast. The crush forecast stayed at 2.105 billion bushels, reflecting the pace of soybean crush in the first quarter of the marketing year. Soybean export forecast levels of 1.775 billion bushels remained steady and mirrored the current pace of exports without the possible trade deal impacts. Unlike corn, soybeans do not face a quota scenario in China. A trade deal with specificity on soybean exports could provide support for prices.
A Brazilian crop at 4.519 billion bushels portends tough competition in world markets for U.S. exports. The Argentinian soybean production forecast stayed steady at 1.95 billion bushels. Forecasts for Brazil and Argentina soybean exports are set at 3.09 billion bushels over the marketing year, up 15 million bushels from last marketing year’s estimate. Increased U.S. soybean exports to China under the trade deal may see strong substitution buying of South American soybeans by other major buyers that may limit U.S. exports upside potential despite a trade agreement.
Additional discussion and graphs associated with this article available here.
The number of hogs being raised in the U.S. has been going up since mid–2014. However, it isn’t necessarily because profits are great.
The last Hogs and Pigs report released by USDA, back in December, was a record-setter at 77 million 338 thousand. That’s three-percent more than year ago. The expansion comes despite unprofitable margins and uncertainties related to trade issues says Jason Franken of Western Illinois University. The fact is there will be more hogs going to market from January to May. One of the reasons, Franken says, is that the litter size has grown on average and is now over 11 piglets per sow, “The continuation of the upward trend in pigs per litter, combined with reported farrowing intentions suggests more hogs going to market in 2020.”
Winter farrowing intentions are up 1 percent from actual farrowings last year and 5% from two years ago. The spring farrowing intentions are also up slightly from last year and up 3 percent from 2 years back.
All of these numbers point to a somewhat higher supply of hogs and pork in 2020 thinks Franken. And, he says, with higher production, one might expect lower prices, but there are additional items to consider on the demand side. For instance, we’re eating more pork per person. Last year’s mark at 52.7 pounds each is the highest number since 1981. Exports are good, too, even to China, “On the world market, all eyes are on Asia, and China in particular, due to their production losses from African Swine Fever. Although held back by China’s retaliatory duties, U.S. pork exports to China increased throughout 2019. In September and October, China surpassed Japan to become our second largest foreign customer after Mexico.”
USDA, by-the-way, is forecasting U.S. pork exports in the first three quarters of 2020 to be 21%, 7.5%, and 8.8% greater than the corresponding quarters from last year. Taking all of this into account, WIU’s Jason Franken says hog prices should be profitable throughout much of 2020, even though they have been below the cost of production in recent weeks, as they often are seasonally at this time of year.
The price of soybeans may have put in a seasonal low but there are a lot of factors at play. Todd Gleason has more on what farmers should do with University of Illinois Agricultural economist Todd Hubbs.
September 16, 2019 by Todd Hubbs, University of Illinois
Last week’s price rally in the soybean market relied on the prospects of easing trade tensions with China. The potential for soybean prices to maintain recent momentum depends on developments in trade negotiations and production prospects for both the U.S. and South America.
USDA’s September soybean production forecast came in at 3.633 billion bushels, down 47 million bushels from the August forecast. Yield per harvested acre fell by 0.6 bushels per acre to 47.9 from the August forecast of 48.5. Compared to the August forecast, yield prospects for the top ten states in soybean acreage increased in Missouri and Kansas. Yield prospects declined in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, and South Dakota. North Dakota, Nebraska, and Ohio saw no change in expected yield from August.
The crop production report showed the lowest pod count for the 11-states in the objective yield survey since 2012. At 1,561 pods per 18-square feet, this year’s pod count led to an implied pod weight near 0.35 grams per pod. A pod weight at this level is the highest in a decade and led to speculation about potential lower pod weights in this late-planted crop. Over the last five years, pod counts increased from the September forecast to the final yield estimate. Pod weights over the same period fell in four out of the five years.
In conjunction with the lower production forecast, total supply for the 2019–20 marketing year dropped an additional 65 million bushels, to 4.658 billion bushels, on lower beginning stocks. Soybean crush and export estimates for the 2018–19 marketing year increased by 20 and 45 million bushels, respectively. The USDA left the 2019–20 soybean export forecast 1.775 billion bushels and the crush forecast at 2.115 billion bushels. Ending stocks for the 2019–20 marketing year fell to 640 million bushels, down 115 million bushels from the August projection. While expectations of strong crush levels remains in place for the next marketing year, the prospects of maintaining higher soybean prices fall on exports or production issues. The recent thaw in trade negotiations between China and the U.S. came as a rare positive development this year and prompted the rally in prices last week.
Soybean exports for 2018–19 came in down approximately 390 million bushels from the previous marketing year. Exports to China, using export sales data on accumulated exports, fell 544 million bushels from the previous marketing year and 835 million bushels from the 2016–17 marketing year. At around 490 million bushels, U.S. soybean exports to China have not been this low since the 2006–07 marketing year. The recent announcement of lower tariffs on soybeans and pork look to support soybean prices, but clarity on the level of tariff reductions and a guarantee of following through by Chinese buyers remain lacking. For the current marketing year through September 5, outstanding sales and accumulated exports total 39.3 million bushels. Recent reports place Chinese purchases in the range of 29.5 million bushels (804 thousand metric tons). Additional purchases may total between 37 – 110 million bushels. This amount of buying remains a long way from the levels of export needed to support prices in the long-term but provides a positive development on the trade front.
New agreements with Argentina and Russia on meal imports combined with an expanded emphasis to rebuilding the hog herd decimated by African swine fever point towards China preparing for an extended fight in the trade war. Additionally, Chinese soybean production sits at a forecast level of 628 million bushels, up 8 percent from last year. The lull in the trade fight may allow China to backfill soybeans and pork to alleviate domestic pressures and settle in for a protracted battle. While Chinese buying of South American soybeans may cool in the near term, the potential for U.S. soybean exports to remain at reduced levels from pre-trade war totals in the 2019–20 marketing year continues as a high probability. Soybean production prospects in South America will continue to be crucial over the next few months, particularly if the trade war rekindles.
The forecast of South American production for the 2019–20 marketing year came in at 7.03 billion bushels, up 2.4 percent from last year’s estimate. The projected size of the Brazilian soybean crop increased by 220 million bushels to a production level of 4.52 billion bushels. The soybean production forecast for Argentina decreased 84 million bushels from last year’s estimate to 2.032 billion bushels. Some early season dryness in southern Brazil and Argentina merits monitoring. A continuation of the current dryness may delay planting in some areas. However, it remains too early to forecast any definitive change in soybean production in those regions.
If production issues do not materialize, the status of the trade war will be paramount. Current U.S. crop prospects point to maintaining some of the recent price gains. A failure of trade negotiations in October may push prices back to ranges seen in early September. Marketing soybeans on price rallies associated with trade negotiations and weather may be prudent. The uncertainty related to production levels and trade remains exceptionally high.
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
The USDA finally released a set of highly anticipated reports on Friday. The results projected lower ending stocks for corn and soybeans during this marketing year. Despite lower ending stock forecasts, the results disappointed and produced a somewhat bearish outlook. The following discussion recaps developments in corn and soybean crop fundamentals coming out of the reports and price implications moving forward.
Corn ending stock projections for the 2018–19 marketing year came in at 1.735 billion bushels, down 46 million bushels from the December forecast. Reduced corn production in 2018 drove ending stocks lower despite a 165 million bushel reduction in total use during the marketing year. Corn production is down 1.4 percent from the November forecast at 14.4 billion bushels. The harvested acreage estimate of 81.7 million acres is down from the November forecast of 81.8 million acres. Average corn yield of 176.4 bushels per acre is 2.5 bushels lower than the November forecast. December 1 corn stocks came in at 11.952 billion bushels. Total disappearance came in near 4.62 billion bushels during the first quarter of the marketing year, up from last year’s first quarter use by approximately 280 million bushels. Despite the lower domestic supply numbers and stronger first quarter use, lower consumption forecasts in key categories provide little support for corn prices.
The WASDE report forecast for U.S. corn during 2018–19 lowered corn use projections for feed and residual use, ethanol crush, and other food and industrial uses. At 5.375 billion bushels, the projection for corn feed use and residual moved lower by 125 million bushels. The ethanol use forecast decreased by 25 million bushels to 5.575 billion bushels. The lower ethanol use reflected the slowing ethanol production levels over the last month. Food, seed, and industrial use other than ethanol saw the consumption forecast lowered 15 million bushels on reduced corn use for high fructose corn syrup, glucose, and dextrose. Corn export forecasts maintained the 2.45 billion bushels forecast in December. The potential for increased corn usage seems increasingly dependent on continued economic growth and the resolution of the current trade impasse.
World ending stocks for corn increased by almost 40 million bushels from December forecasts. The increase focused on stronger production in key growing areas. In particular, Argentine corn production forecasts totaled 1.81 billion bushels, up from last year’s 1.26 billion bushels. Brazil’s corn production forecast stayed at 3.72 billion bushels this year. In total, Brazil and Argentina production forecasts exceed 2017–18 production estimates by 1.04 billion bushels. Projections of corn exports from Argentina and Brazil sit at an additional 492 million bushels each above last marketing year. Given the increase in South American production, the evolution of crop conditions in the region bears monitoring as we move into 2019.
The forecast for soybean ending stocks fell to 910 million bushels. Despite the 45 million bushel reduction to ending stocks, the current projection remains record high. Soybean production came in 56 million bushels lower than the November forecast at 4.54 billion. The harvested acreage estimate of 88.1 million acres is down from the November forecast of 88.3 million acres. Average soybean yield of 51.6 bushels per acre is 0.5 bushels lower than the November forecast. While the expected reduction in soybean production materialized, consumption continues to exhibit strong crush levels and weak exports this marketing year.
The WASDE report increased the soybean crush forecast by 10 million bushels to 2.09 billion bushels. The change in the crush projection reflects strong crush numbers through January. Soybean exports saw the forecast lowered by 25 million bushels to 1.875 billion bushels. Considerable uncertainty remains in export potential in 2019 as the sporadic nature of trade talks with China unfold. Total use fell by 15 million bushels on weaker export projections to 4.092 billion bushels. The consumption for this marketing year holds the potential for deterioration if the trade war escalates and increased competition out of South America materializes.
World production forecasts for the marketing year decreased by 301million bushels to 13.26 billion bushels on the smaller U.S. and Brazilian crops. The Brazilian soybean production forecast decreased by 183.72 million bushels over the December forecast to 4.3 billion bushels. Reports out of Brazil indicate this number may fall further before the final crop estimate is complete. The Argentinian soybean production forecast fell slightly to 2.02 billion bushels on reduced acreage. The Brazilian soybean export forecast dropped by 55 million bushels reflecting the decreased crop production levels. Forecasts for Brazil and Argentina soybean exports sit at 3.15 billion bushels over the marketing year, up from last marketing year’s estimate of 2.88 billion bushels.
While the ending stock projections for both crops fell, the USDA maintained price projections for the marketing year at the December mid-point ranges for corn and soybeans at $3.60 and $8.60 respectively. Barring a resolution to the trade issues with China or a significant deterioration in the South American crop, soybean prices are untenable at current levels. Corn prices appear set to remain flat and range bound until the March Prospective Planting reports provide an initial indication of crop acreage in 2019.
The January USDA reports have been delayed until further notice because of the government shutdown. It is expected once these numbers are released the changes in the national yields for corn and soybeans could be positive for price.
The last time USDA updated corn and soybean yields was in the month of November. Both crops saw a drop in predicted yield for the 2018 harvest. This drop has been since complicated by harvest problems. Todd Hubbs from the University of Illinois says history can sometimes be a guide to how the January Crop Production report might change. More often than not when the yields from October to November go down, the U of I commodities specialist says they drop again in January, “And what you see is when you see a yield change from November to October that is negative, we tend to see similar change from January to November. Now it doesn’t always hold, but if that were to materialize we probably see a corn number around 177.2 bushels to the acre. I think it might be a little bit higher than that, but even if it is if we lose half to one bushel out of the current projection of 178.9, then that is really supportive for corn prices moving forward.”
Hubbs says a similar pattern holds for soybean yields. On-average he says that’s been about a quarter of a bushel per acre… a little better than that actually… and if it came to fruition this year it would put the 2018 soybean yield at 51.8 bushels to the acre. That would clearly be supportive to price says Hubbs even though the trade issues with China are continuing, “We could also see some acreage come out of both corn and soybeans as harvest was really tough in some places. Particularly out in Kansas and the southern plains. This has more implications for winter wheat seedings than it does for anything else. Right now, by my projections I think winter wheat acreage will be down by one-point-five percent from last year’s 32.5 million acres. This may have implications for both corn and soybean acreage in the southern plains as we move into 2019 and think about what kind of acreage we will have.”
The implication being a potential increase in corn or soybean acreage in that area. USDA says it will announce the date for the release of the January reports once the government shutdown has ended.
Farmers, as we enter the last half of May, are nearing the end of the spring planting season and they are turning their attention again to the marketplace. Todd Gleason has more on how one agricultural economist sees prices playing out for the year.
We’ll start with the last numbers USDA publishes in the Supply and Demand tables for each commodity, the season’s average price. For corn, that number - at the midpoint - is $3.80. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs is a bit more optimistic. He has it at $4.05. His soybean price, however, is less than USDA’s. The agency has it at $10.00 a bushel. Hubbs puts it at $9.45. The difference in viewpoint says Hubbs lands squarely on soybean exports, “When we look forward to 18/19 the 2.29 billion bushel USDA projection seems a bit high especially when you consider the size of the Brazilian soybean crop and China’s aspiration to increase domestic soybean production while cutting back on imports for the first time in over a decade. It is unclear if China can pull this off, but I’ve got exports at 2.20 billion bushels in 18/19 and that may be generous considering whats going on currently in the market.”
So, Todd Hubbs soybean export figure is 90 million bushels lower than USDA’s for the coming marketing season. It’s lower for the current marketing year, too. All-in-all his soybean supply & demand table puts the new crop ending stocks at 562 million bushels. That’s a far cry from the much more optimistic USDA 415 million bushels projection and the reason his price projection is 55 cents a bushel lower than USDA’s. Again USDA is $10.00, Hubbs is at $9.45. His corn number swings in the opposite direction.
USDA, in the May reports, projected the price of new crop corn at $3.80. Hubbs is at $4.05. The reason why is pretty simple. Hubbs says he uses a lower yield trend line yield, "The main difference between my projections and USDA is the trend yield number. We sit at 171.4 whereas USDA has it a 174 bushels to the acre and the final yield makes a big difference in the consumption pattern and the final price.
Again, USDA is at 174 bushels to the acre and Todd Hubbs is using 171.4. Both numbers are calculated from the same USDA yield data set. USDA uses a smaller subset starting at about the time Bt corn was introduced. Hubbs’ set goes back a couple more decades, and consequently, his yield number is lower. The resulting price difference in the supply & demand tables for new crop corn is $3.80 for USDA and $4.05 for Hubbs.
The lateness of the planting season coupled with smaller acreage has put a fundamental lift into the corn market. Todd Gleason talks with the University of Illinois commodity markets specialist about what it might mean for prices.
The lateness of the planting season coupled with smaller acreage has put a fundamental lift into the corn market. Todd Gleason talks with the University of Illinois commodity markets specialist about what it might mean for prices.
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.
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.
The agricultural economists at ILLINOIS believe there are three recent historical commodity price eras. For grain prices, these run from post World War II to 1973, from 1973 to 2006, and from 2006 to the present. What they’ve found to date is that grain prices, unadjusted for inflation, tend to move within a range during these eras.
The current range for corn is something like $3 dollars per bushel on the low end and $8.00 on the high. The highs come less frequently, usually driven by a weather-related shortfall. Consequently, prices spend more time on the lower end of the range than the top end. However, he doesn’t really know why the prices are so range-bound, “My own personal view is that it reflects relatively stable supply and demand dynamics. These are food commodity markets that don’t change very rapidly in terms of who’s producing and who’s consuming. As long as economic growth is not wildly high or low, we’ll tend to bounce around in a range.”
The mid-point of that range in Illinois since 2006 has been about $4.50 for corn. However, Irwin says corn prices over the last four years have averaged about $3.50 per bushel. He thinks this means corn prices are due to go higher. Marketing on that belief is difficult says Scott Irwin, “If you believe conventional wisdom, you should prepare for and project sub $3.50 corn prices for as far as the eye can see. This is not my view. I will be the first to admit prices have gone lower, longer than I expected when we came off the highs, but I still believe a projected average price over the next five years closer to $4.00, rather than $3.25 or $3.50 is more realistic.”
Admittedly, Irwin has more confidence in his ability to predict the mid-point than the movement of prices. Mostly he says the upward moves are predicated on weather problems.
ifr18019–020 Returning to the New Era Corn Price Mid-Point
Scott Irwin, Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois
The agricultural economists at ILLINOIS have been championing a new era for grain prices since the rise of ethanol as a major player in the U.S corn market. Todd Gleason has more on why.
Scott Irwin is an agricultural economist…
2:57 radio self-contained
Scott Irwin is an agricultural economist from the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues believe grain prices have achieved a new higher plateau era. An era that started just after Congress mandated renewable fuels be ramped up in the U.S. gasoline supply over a ten year period beginning in 2005. Irwin says it is the third such era.
Irwin :25 …within a range during these eras.
Quote Summary - The periods that I call eras of grain prices run from post World War II to 1973, from 1973 to 2006, and 2006 to the present. What we have found to date is that grain prices, unadjusted for inflation, tend to move within a range during these eras.
The current range for corn is something like $3 dollars per bushel on the low end and $8.00 on the high. The highs come less frequently, usually driven by a weather related short-fall. Consequently, prices spend more time on the lower end of the range than the top end. However, he doesn’t really know why the prices are so range-bound.
Irwin :29 …tend to bounce around in a range.
Quote Summary - No real good answers for that. My own personal view is that it reflects relatively stable supply and demand dynamics. These are food commodity markets that don’t change very rapidly in terms of who’s producing and who’s consuming. As long as economic growth in not wildly high or low, we’ll tend to bounce around in a range.
The mid-point, by-the-way, of that range in Illinois since 2006 has been about $4.50 for corn. However, Irwin says corn prices over the last four years have averaged about $3.50 per bushel. He thinks this means corn prices are due to go higher. However, marketing on that belief is difficult.
Irwin :38 …closer to $4.00, rather than $3.25 or $3.50 is more realistic.
Quote Summary - If you believe conventional wisdom, you should prepare for and project sub $3.50 corn prices for as far as the eye can see. This is not my view. I will be the first to admit prices have gone lower, longer than I expected when we came off the highs, but I still believe a projected average price over the next five years closer to $4.00, rather than $3.25 or $3.50 is more realistic.
Admittedly, Irwin has more confidence in his ability to predict the mid-point than the movement of prices. Mostly he says the upward moves are predicated on weather problems.
by Todd Hubbs, Commodity Markets Specialist - University of Illinois
Crop prices will remain below the high levels seen in the early part of this decade due to large global inventories. Global economic growth continues to build on the momentum seen over the last year. Growth in China and emerging market in Asia is projected to remain strong throughout 2018. The prospects of improved growth support commodity demand, but the significant changes to trade policy could mitigate some of this demand growth in export markets. Lower prices are expected to continue in 2018 barring a shortfall in one of the major production regions. The following price outlook analysis assumes a good 2018 growing season.
Corn prices continue to struggle with large crops and five consecutive years of growth in ending stocks. Domestic corn demand continues to see moderate growth in corn used for ethanol which has been supported by record levels of ethanol exports. Growth in livestock production and low corn prices provide support for increased feed usage during the 2017–18 marketing year. The potential for greater than 5.5 billion bushels in feed and residual use would be the largest amount since 2007–08. Corn exports currently lag the pace of last marketing year’s 2.29 billion bushels and are projected at 1.95 billion bushels by the end of the current year. Planted acreage of corn is expected to increase slightly in 2018 to 90.8 million acres. Assuming a trend yield near 172.3 bushels would result in a 2018 crop near 14.4 billion bushels. A projected total use of 14.5 billion bushels would result in the 2018–19 marketing year ending stocks near 2.44 billion bushels, a slight decrease from 2017–18 projections. Prices are expected to average near $3.30 during the current year and near $3.40 during the 2018–19 marketing year if production develops as expected.
Soybean prices remain strong relative to corn and wheat prices. U.S. soybean ending stocks continue a five-year pattern of growth with 2016–17 ending stocks ending at 301 million bushels. The lower than initially projected ending stocks benefited from very strong export numbers driven by continued growth in exports to China. Soybean exports are projected to exceed 2.2 billion bushels during this marketing year, up from last marketing year’s 2.174 billion bushels. Expanded soybean acreage and a 49.5 bushel yield for the 2017 crop are expected to increase 2017–18 marketing year ending stocks to 480 million bushels. Planted acreage of soybeans is expected to increase moderately to 90.6 million acres in 2018 due to the low prices of corn and wheat and the lower cost of producing soybeans relative to corn. A yield near 48.5 bushels would result in a 2018 crop about 52 million bushels smaller than the 2017 crop. With total use projected at 4.32 billion bushels, a further increase in U.S. stocks is expected by the end of the 2017–18 marketing year. Prices are expected to average near $9.20 during the current year and near $8.80 during the 2018–19 marketing year if world production develops as expected.
U.S. wheat acreage is expected to continue declining. Planted acreage decreased to 46.01 million acres in 2017. U.S. wheat production decreased by 508 million bushels in 2017 with average yield down by 6.3 bushels per acre. Soft red winter wheat production decreased to 202 million acres on 230,000 fewer acres nationally. Soft red winter wheat production is down 49 percent from 2010–2017 in Illinois. During the same period, wheat acreage in Illinois declined by 450,000 acres. World wheat production in 2017–18 is expected to decline slightly from the record levels of 2016–17. Foreign wheat production is expected to increase for the fifth consecutive year. U.S. stocks of wheat in all classes are projected to decline to 935 million bushels after hitting 1.18 billion bushels in 2016–17. U.S. soft red winter wheat ending stocks are expected to grow by 7 million bushels in 2017–18. The average price received for the 2017 crop is expected to be near $4.60. The Illinois price at harvest is expected to be near $4.75.
Livestock markets continue to respond to the growing demand for meat globally and lower feed costs. Prices in the livestock sector look to level out after declining from the highs seen in 2014 and the subsequent supply response. Production levels are expected to increase in 2018.
U.S. beef production is expected to increase 4.6 percent in 2018 on higher levels of feedlot placements in last half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018. Beef production is forecast at 27.6 billion pounds in 2018, up 1.2 billion pounds over 2017. Beef export markets continue to exemplify U.S. competitiveness in foreign markets. Exports are projected at 2.97 billion pounds, up from 2.85 billion in 2017. Recent strength in export markets has been driven by strong demand from Japan. Domestic per capita beef consumption is projected to increase in 2018 to 59.2 pounds, up 1.9 pounds from 2017. Strong demand in 2017 moved cattle through feedlots at a rapid pace. Fed cattle prices look to move lower in the first half of 2018 on large supplies. Fed cattle prices average near $122 in 2017 but look to average near $117 in 2018. Feeder steer prices averaged $145 in 2017 and are projected to be around $142 in 2018.
U.S. pork production is projected to increase in 2018 to 26.9 billion pounds, up 1.2 billion pounds from 2017. Delays in hog slaughter levels in the fourth quarter of 2017 are projected to push first quarter pork production in 2018 up 4.7 percent of 2017 levels. Pork exports in 2018 are expected to increase from the 5.6 billion pounds exported in 2017 to 5.9 billion pounds. While increased exports to Mexico helped to support the export pace thus far in 2017, lower export levels to Japan and China is currently a drag on pork exports. Domestic pork supplies in 2018 are forecast at 52.1 pounds per capita, up from 50.4 in 2017. The average hog price is expected to decrease to $45.00 in 2018, down from $49.01 in 2017
For four years in a row farmers in Illinois, other parts of the nation too, have made more money on soybeans than corn.
The numbers are pretty clear and University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey lays them out in an online farmdocDaily article. He says, on average, soybeans have been more profitable than corn since 2013, “One of the things we’ve seen is that soybean prices, when compared to corn, have been relatively strong since 2013. The ration of soybean to corn prices has been 2.74 since 2013, and it was 2.42 before that. So, we’ve seen soybean prices increase relative to corn prices.”
Farmers have responded to the higher soybean price.
When you look at historic price ratio changes, it is relatively easy to see when demand has pushed one crop over the other. The corn-based ethanol build up, for instance, from 2006 to 2013 has a soybean-to-corn price ratio of 2.42… that means the price of soybeans is 2.42 times greater than the price of corn.
Ethanol plants were being built around the United States at this time, and there was a big need for more bushels of corn. Farmers responded and planted more corn. That need has now leveled off at the same time China has been continually increasing its need for soybeans. Today the soybean-to-corn ratio is 2.72.
This ratio continually changes says Schnitkey, “We’ve seen soybean and corn have roughly the same revenue. That happened in the late 1980’s. So, it has happened in the past, and I think we are going to see the soybeans to be at least as profitable as corn for the foreseeable future. This is driven by strong demand for soybean exports. We have this growing demand for exports of soybeans. As long as that demand is there, we will continue to try and pull acres into soybeans.”
Just as an FYI, the long-term soybean-to-corn ratio, 1972 to present, is 2.55.