October 15, 2015

Africa and Soybean Trials

The nations of Africa have struggled to feed themselves for decades. There are some places, like South Africa, that have successfully adapted some of world’s primary crops. Corn is a good example. Soybeans are also grown in Africa, but they’re not particularly high yielding varieties. Todd Gleason reports soybean breeders from three African institutions have been visiting the United States in hopes of making some improvements.

October 14, 2015

The Corn Crop is Unlikely to be Overestimated

After the Crop Production report was released last week some of the trade began to discuss the possibility USDA had overestimated the size of the U.S. corn crop. This is not very likely.

USDA’s October 9 Crop Production report forecast the 2015 corn crop at about 13.6 billion bushels. That was down 30 million bushels from September and 660 million bushels smaller than last year.

Commentary following the release of the report suggests some believe the corn crop is even smaller. One of the factors cited as evidence the crop may be smaller than forecast is the strong basis levels in many markets. This seems the make some sense. The argument is that a crop as large as forecast, particularly in the face of a rapid pace of harvest and a large soybean crop, would not support such a strong basis due to the resulting strong demand for storage space. That argument, however, is not completely supported by the current estimates of crop supplies thinks University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good.

Basis levels are generally determined by the supply of storage space and an array of factors that determine the demand for storage capacity. Harvest-time basis levels at the point of producer delivery may be receiving some additional support this year from the recent expansion in grain storage capacity. The USDA’s December Grain Stocks report, for example, estimates that permanent storage capacity (on- and off- farm) increased by nearly 550 million bushels from December 1, 2012 to December 1, 2014. Additional capacity has been added in the past year. Basis levels at the farm may also be receiving support from the lack of widespread transportation delays and the increasing use of delayed pricing contracts. Both of these factors allow for more rapid movement of corn through the marketing channel. Darrel Good says the lack of widespread transportation issues may reflect, in part, the dominance of the domestic corn market relative to exports resulting in a larger portion of the crop moving by truck rather than by rail where delays are more common.

Basis levels are also influenced by the pace of corn consumption. A more rapid pace of consumption, all else equal, tends to strengthen basis in order to make storage less attractive. Domestic ethanol production in September and early October 2015 was nearly five percent larger than that of a year earlier, supporting the domestic demand for corn. Domestic feed demand for corn has also likely been supported by the four percent increase in the hog inventory this fall and the slightly larger number of cattle on feed, dairy cattle, and broiler placements. On the other hand, the pace of export shipments is well below that of last year. The relative pace of consumption in the various segments of the corn market may explain part of the regional differences in basis patterns this year.

Since corn basis levels and patterns are determined by a complex set of supply and demand factors, it seems to be a stretch to conclude generally strong harvest time basis levels this year point to a smaller corn crop than currently forecast writes Good in his Weekly Outlook. It can be found on the Farm Doc Daily website.

He says history is also not on the side of a smaller yield forecast than the 168 bushel forecast of last week. In the 40 years from 1975 through 2014, the USDA yield forecast increased from September to October, as it did this year, in 24 years. The January yield estimate was below the October forecast in only four of those 24 years. While higher corn prices as the marketing year progresses are possible, then, price increases are not likely to be generated by a smaller U.S. production forecast. Instead, Darrel Good says prices will be influenced by the pace of consumption and the development of the South American crop.

October 12, 2015

Working Capital on the Farm

Low commodity prices are quickly eating into the reserves farmers built up over the last several years. Listen to Gary Schnitkey to learn more on agriculture's 'working capital'.

original article from FarmDocDaily

September 16, 2015

How to Read the FSA Acreage Dump

Wednesday (September 16, 2015) the Farm Service Agency released a new set of numbers. While these are preliminary figures of acreage and crops, they do offer a hint of things to come in future official USDA estimates.

September 16, 2015

Revised 2015 Corn and Soybean Return Estimates

by Gary Schnitkey, Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois

As harvest is beginning, more information is available to project 2015 revenues and returns. Revised returns are presented in this article for high-productivity farmland in central Illinois. Similar estimates for northern, southern, and low-productivity central Illinois farmland are available in the 2015 Crop Budgets. Overall, returns for 2015 continue to be projected at low levels, with returns being below average cash rent levels.

Revised gross revenue

Table 1 shows revised budgets for high-productivity farmland in central Illinois. Much of the emphasis during this revision related to updating gross revenue estimates included yields, prices, Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) payments, and crop insurance payments.

Yields: When originally released, 2015 Crop Budgets contained yield estimates based on trend yields. At this point, the information available to update these yields estimates comes from the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS). NASS revised state yield estimates on September 11th. Obviously, yields will vary from expectations across Illinois. At this point, yield estimates for smaller areas are not available. As a result, estimated state yields are used to adjust 2015 budgeted yields.

The NASS state yield estimates for corn in Illinois is 173 bushels per acre. The 173 bushel yield estimate is one bushel higher than the 2015 trend estimate of 172 bushels per acre. As a result, corn yields in Table 1 are adjusted up by one bushel per acre from initial estimates.

NASS estimated the 2015 soybean yield at 54 bushels per acre. The 54 bushel yield is four bushels higher than the trend estimate of 50 bushels. As a result, soybean yields are adjusted up by four bushels per acre from their original estimates.

Commodity prices: Revised World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) were released on Friday (for a commentary see farmdocDaily, September 14, 2015).

WASDE’s range on corn price for the 2015–16 marketing year is from $3.45 per bushel to $4.05 per bushel, with a midpoint of $3.75. Current forward cash bids in central Illinois range from $3.85 per bushel for harvest-time delivery to $3.95 for spring delivery. A price of $3.90 per bushel is used in Table 1, reflecting an expectation in the higher end of the WASDE range.

WASDE’s range on soybean price is from $8.40 per bushel to $9.90 per bushel, with an average of $9.15 per bushel. Current central Illinois forward bids range from $9.00 for harvest-time delivery to $8.75 for spring delivery. A price of $8.90 per bushel is used in Table1, slightly below the mid-point of the WASDE range, reflecting the lower forward bids.

ARC payments: Revenue includes $35 per acre for ARC payemnts. This $35 value is an average over corn and soybean base acres, with procedures used to estimate ARC payments provided in an August 18th farmdocDaily article (http://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2015/08/2016-arc-co-payment-estimates-for-cash-rent-bid.html). Items to note about these ARC payments are:

  • ARC payments are paid on base acres, not planted acres. Therefore, a blended average of base acres are shown in Table 1. Since planted acres do not matter, the payment does not vary whether corn or soybeans are planted

  • ARC is a county-level revenue program. Therefore, payments will vary across counties.

  • Higher market year average prices will result in lower ARC payments and vice versa.

  • The payments shown in Table 1 will be received in 2016. ARC payments made this autumn relate to 2014 production. Farms in northern Illinois will receive 2014 ARC payments this autumn of about $35 per acre averaged across corn and soybean base acres. ARC payments for 2014 production will not be received in central and southern Illinois.

Crop Insurance: Projected prices for 2015 are $4.15 per bushel for corn and $9.74 per bushel for soybeans. The December 2015 corn contract currently is trading near $3.95 per bushel. If $3.95 is the harvest price, the harvest price would be 95% of the projected price, indicating that yields would need to be below guarantee yields before crop insurance payments would occur. The November soybean contract currently is trading near $8.90, with $8.90 being 91% of the projected price. Similar to corn, yields must be below guarantee yields before crop insurance payments occur.

There will be some areas where crop insurance payments occur, particularly in areas where large amounts of rain occurred this spring. To recognize these payments, budgets in Table 1 include $20 per acre in crop insurance payments.

Gross revenue: Given these estimates, gross revenues are estimated at $840 per acre for corn-after-soybeans, $801 for corn-after-corn, $603 for soybeans-after-corn and $656 for soybeans-after-two-years-corn (see Table 1). Operator and land return

Cost remain unchanged from pervious budgets. Given the above gross revenues and previously estimated costs, operator and land return estimates are $255 per acre for corn-after-soybeans, $217 for corn-after-corn, $233 for soybeans-after-corn, and $286 for soybeans-after-two-years-corn. These are the returns shared between farmers and land owners.

The projected 2015 operator and land returns are below those of recent years (see Figure 1). The last time corn had a lower operator and land return than projected for 2015 was in 2008. Soybean returns in 2006 were lower than the 2015 projected soybean return.

Figure 1 also includes average cash rents for this quality of farmland. Both the 2015 corn and soybean operator and land return are projected to be below the 2015 average cash rent.


Revised estimates of gross revenue for 2015 are presented in this article. Revised gross revenues point to low returns and low net incomes for 2015. Revisions to these estimates will be made as more accurate yield, price, and cost information is obtained.

September 08, 2015

2016 Cash Rents May Need to Drop $100

Farm income this year is going to be dramatically lower than in the past. Next year doesn’t look any better even on highly productive central Illinois soils. Todd Gleason reports farmers must cut costs to survive, and that cash rents may need to come down by as much as one-hundred-dollars per acre.

August 11, 2015

How Crop Production Reports are Collected

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will release the first survey-based yield and production forecasts for the 2015 corn and soybean crops this month. Even though a description of the NASS crop production forecast methodology is widely available, there always seems to be some misconceptions about how NASS makes corn and soybean yield forecasts. University of Illinois agricultural economists Darrel Good and Scott Irwin put together a brief overview of that methodology and posted it to the FarmDocDaily website.

While they say their summary does not do full justice to the very comprehensive forecasting methodology, it is useful to place the upcoming yield forecasts in the proper perspective.

NASS corn and soybean yield forecasts are made in August, September, October and November. The final yield estimate is released in January based on the comprehensive December Agricultural Survey of producers. Two types of surveys are used each month to collect the forecast data.

The Monthly Agricultural Yield Survey (AYS) of producers is conducted in 32 states for corn and 29 states for soybeans with a total of about 25,000 producers surveyed for all crops in August. The Objective Yield Survey (OYS) is conducted in 10 states for corn and 11 states for soybeans. The surveys are generally conducted in a two week period ending about a week before the release of the forecasts.

For the Agricultural Yield Survey, a sample of farm operations to be surveyed is drawn from those who responded to the June acreage survey. While the sample of operations to be surveyed changes from year-to-year, for any particular year the same operations are interviewed each month from August through November. Survey respondents are asked to identify the number of acres of corn and soybeans to be harvested and to provide a forecast of the final yield of each crop. Based on these responses, average yields are forecast for each survey state and for the nation.

The goal of the Objective Yield Survey program is to generate yield forecasts based on actual plant counts and measurements .The sample of fields (1,920 for corn and 1,835 for soybeans) is selected from farms that reported corn (soybeans) planted or to be planted in the June acreage survey. A random sample of fields is drawn with the probability of selection of any particular field being proportional to the size of the tract. Two plots are then randomly selected in each field.

Data collected from each corn plot during the forecast cycle are used to measure the size of the unit and to measure or forecast the number of ears and grain weight. These data include (as available based on maturity) row width, number of stalks per row, number of stalks with ears or ear shoots per row, number of ears with kernels, kernel row length, ear diameter, ear weight in dent stage, weight of shelled grain, moisture content, total ear weight of harvested unit, lab weight of sample ears, weight of grain from sample ears, and moisture content of shelled grain from sample of mature ears. Corn yield is forecast based on the forecast (or measurement if maturity allows) of the number of ears, the weight per ear, and harvest loss.

Data collected from soybean plots (as available based on maturity) include row width; number of plants in each row; number of main stem nodes, lateral branches, dried flowers and pods, and pods with beans; weight and moisture content of beans harvested by enumerator; and weight and moisture content of harvest loss. The data collected are used to forecast yield based on a forecast (or measurement if maturity allows) of the number of plants per acre, the number of pods with beans per plant, the average bean weight, and harvest loss.

For both corn and soybeans, the state average yield forecast based on the Objective Yield Survey is the simple average of the yields for all the sample fields. In addition, a state yield forecast is also made by first averaging the forecast or actual yield factors (such as stalk counts, ear counts, and ear weight) and then forecasting the state average yield directly from these averages. This forecast is based on a regression analysis of the historical relationship (15 years) between the yield factors and the state average yield. State average yields are combined to forecast the U.S. average yield.

The NASS corn and soybean survey and forecasting procedures produce a number of indictors of the average yield. In August these indicators include: average field level yields from the Objective Yield Survey, average state level counts from the Objective Yield Survey, and the average yield reported by farmers in the Agricultural Yield Survey. Each of the indicators provides input into the determination of the official yield forecasts by the USDA’s Agricultural Statistics Board.

The accuracy of the USDA yield forecasts, write Darrel Good and Scott Irwin, relative to the final yield estimates varies from year to year, but as would be expected, improves each month through the forecast cycle as the crops become more mature.



Understanding USDA Crop Forecast

Marketing & Outlook Brief

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