WILLAg Notes

November 24, 2016

Farm Assets Conference

Soybean Panel
Greg Johnson, The Andersons - Champaign, Illinois
Ellen Dearden, AgReview - Morton, Illinois
Jerry Gulke, Gulke Group - Chicago, Illinois

Corn Panel
Aaron Curtis, MIDCO - Bloomington, Illinois
Kevin Van Trump, Van Trump Report - Kansas City, Missouri
Mike Zuzolo, Global Commodity Analytics - Atchison, Kansas

November 21, 2016

Could Soybean Stocks Grow to 580 Million

Depending upon how you do the numbers there could be an enormous supply of soybeans in the U.S. by the time the fall of 2018 rolls around.

The large soybean crop in the United States hasn’t, yet, pummeled prices in Chicago. However, farmers are a bit worried the hammer blow will be struck. For now, much of the focus is on the potential size of the 2017 South American crops and the implications for demand for U.S. grown soybeans. Increasingly, however focus will shift to 2017 production prospects here in the United States.

The over-riding question is whether surpluses and low prices will persist for another year. Although University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good says it is a bit early to speculate on supply and consumption prospects for the 2017–18 marketing year, he thinks some scenarios can be considered.

For soybeans, there is a general expectation that U.S. producers will increase acreage in the year ahead. An increase of about five million acres, to 88 million harvested acres, seems to be a common expectation right now. The extremely high soybean yields of the past three years raise some questions about a potential increase in the trend yield. However, if the 2017 U.S. average soybean yield is near our calculated linear trend value of 47.5 bushels and acreage is increased as expected, the 2017 crop would total 4.18 billion bushels, 181 million bushels less than the 2016 harvest. If soybean consumption during the 2017–18 marketing year remained at the elevated level of 4.108 billion bushels projected for the current year, stocks would grow by about 100 million bushels.

So, at the end of the 2017–18 marketing year there could be 580 million bushels of soybeans left in the supply category as ending stocks. The upshot writes Good in his Weekly Outlook is that with a trend yield of 47.5 bushels and a constant level of consumption, any increase of more than 2.85 million acres next spring would result in some further growth in year ending stocks.

Quote Summary - On the other hand, a five million acre increase in soybean area along with a constant level of consumption means that an average yield of less than 46.3 bushels would result in some increase in marketing year ending stocks.

There are obviously multiple potential acreage, yield, consumption, and ending stocks scenarios for the 2017–18 U.S. soybean marketing year. The most likely scenarios tend to favor a modest to large increase in marketing year ending stocks of soybeans. However, the soybean market is apparently not convinced that stocks will continue to grow next year, with the January 2018 futures price only $0.06 lower than the January 2017 price.

The soybean market, concludes Good, then appears to be reflecting some production risk. He thinks this perceived risk may stem from current drought conditions in the southeastern United States and/or uncertainty about potential impacts if a La Niña episode unfolds in South America.

November 19, 2016

US Corn Ethanol Market | an interview with Carl Zulauf

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).

Summary Observations

  • 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.

November 14, 2016

Watch the Feed Usage Number for Corn

Last week, when USDA raised the sized of the U.S. corn crop, there was a collective gasp in farm country. Prices are already very low, and an even bigger crop wasn’t expected. All attention now has turned to how this mammoth supply will be used in hopes consumption can chew through the mountain of corn.

U.S. farmers are harvesting their largest corn crop on record at some 15.2 billion bushels. It’s the western corn belt that really came through this year with big yields. The November USDA Crop Production report shows that even in the last month those yields got bigger. Up 3 bushel to the acre in Nebraska and South Dakota. 4 bushels higher in Minnesota. And a 17 bushel to the acre increase in North Dakota that came about once farmers (the only real source for yields in that state) took a look at the yield monitors in their combines.

The increased yield for the corn crop creates a scenario says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Todd Hubbs where the ending stocks to use ratio is 16.4 percent under current consumption projections. That’s a level, he notes, that has not been seen since the 2005/06 marketing year. And while the corn for export and ethanol numbers seem sound, the feed and residual number has Hubbs concerned.

Quote Summary - They’ve had the feed and residual use projection at 5.65 billion bushels for the few reports. It’s a big number. It is 10 percent up over last year and, with the increased livestock numbers we’ve seen, it sounds reasonable. However, when you consider the mitagating factors surround feed usage; the unseasonably warm fall; a large corn crush for ethanol which increases the availability of distillers grains; DDG’s that may not be shipped overseas because of China’s recent import restrictions; and you see lots of alternative sources for feed rather than corn. Even though there are strong livestock inventory numbers, the mitigating factors want to make you give feed a good look as we move through the marketing year.

Think of it this way. There are a lot of corn acres and lot ethanol plants west of the Mississippi River - Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota are three of the top five corn producing states in the nation. There are also a lot of wheat acres, and a lot of cattle, and a lot of hogs, and more than a few poultry operations. Those birds and animals eat a lot of feed, but the ranchers and farmers make decisions based on economics. Clearly it has been cheaper to leave cattle on pasture this warmer than average fall, and it may be cheaper to feed wheat and DDG’s rather than corn. We won’t really know the impact until the Grain Stocks report is released January 12 says Todd Hubbs.

Quote Summary - The grain stocks report is the only way to back out how much corn for feed is being used. We know how much corn is being crushed for ethanol. There is a pretty good figure on how much of it is being exported. The Grain Stocks let us back figure a calculation for feed usage over the first quarter of the marketing year. So, on January 12th of 2017 the report will come out giving us the December 1 stocks report. This will give us an indication of just how strong feed us is.

So, while a deserved focus has been placed on corn exports, foreign production, and corn used for ethanol, a major portion of each corn crop is fed to livestock. Given the large projected increase for feed and residual usage this marketing year, monitoring those projections will be really important to price discovery.

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