November 01, 2016

Assessing the Potential for Higher Corn Prices

The odds are against four dollar cash corn this year and next, at least for any extended period of time.



The monthly average cash price paid to farmers in the United States for their corn has been less than $4.00 a bushel for 27 consecutive months. It’s likely to stay that way well into 2017, too, says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good unless something changes, “Some combination of a reduction in corn supplies and increased consumption will be required in order for prices to move above $4.00 per bushel for an extended time.”

On the supply side, or how much corn is around, USDA’s next Crop Production report is due November 9th. It will contain a new forecast of the size of the 2016 U.S. corn crop. Previous history of yield forecast changes in November in years when the forecast declined in September and again in October as was the case this year, says Darrel Good, show very mixed results with 5 moving lower, 1 unchanged, and 4 of the ten getting bigger. The trade is leaning toward a smaller corn yield this time around. So, not a lot of supply side help expected from the USDA reports on this fall’s crop. That make the southern hemisphere pivotal.

Brazilian production declined from 3.35 billion bushels in 2015 to 2.64 billion bushels in 2016 due to late season drought. Early season USDA projections are for production in 2017 to rebound to 3.29 billion bushels. In addition, Argentina is expected to expand corn area due to reductions in export taxes.

It is too early in the South American growing season to assess yield potential, but production well below early projections would be required to push corn prices higher says Good in his Weekly Outlook on the Farm Doc Daily website. He also thinks a more likely source of a reduction in corn supply may be reduced corn acreage in the United States next year.

Darrel Good - Assuming a three million acre reduction in harvested acreage and consumption during the 2017–18 marketing year near the 14.525 billion bushels projected for this year, the 2017 average yield would need to be below 173 bushels in order for year-ending stocks to be reduced from the 2.32 billion bushels projected for the current year. Under the acreage and consumption assumptions made here, a yield near trend value of 169 bushels would result in year-ending stocks of about 1.99 billion bushels.

There are lot of supply side ifs in that statement. Maybe then demand for corn could be the key to higher prices. The good news here is that U.S. corn exports are up, but that’s based upon last year’s poor corn crop out of Brazil. It doesn’t appear feed usage will increase either, thinks Good, and while the ethanol grind has be increasing, USDA has already penciled in an extra 100 million bushels of usage.

It appears unlikely thinks Darrel Good that higher corn prices will be generated by a large reduction in the estimated size of the 2016 U.S. crop or stronger than projected demand for that corn. That leaves a smaller than expected South American crop or a much smaller U.S. crop in 2017 as the potential sources of higher prices. If South American production increases as projected, a large decline in U.S. acreage and/or a 2017 yield below trend value may be required to push the average corn price above $4.00 during the 2017–18 marketing year.


October 27, 2016

Reducing Nutrient Losses

Participants in the University of Illinois 2016 Water Quality Conference Reducing Nutrient Losses panel discuss ways in which farmers and landowners can manage water quality.

  • Laura Christianson, Crop Sciences - University of Illinois
  • Ruth Book, State Conservation Engineer - USDA NRCS
  • Jason Solberg, Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association
  • Debbie Fluegel, Trees Forever


October 26, 2016

Soybean Yields in Illinois

via FarmDocDaily
by Gary Schnitkey, Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois

In recent years, soybean yields in Illinois have been exceptional, leading to questions on whether technologies have caused a "jump" in soybean yields. While the 2016 state yield will be an outlier, it is too early to say that a new regime of soybean yields exists. Relative to corn yields, soybean yields must increase more to have the same relative yields as in the early 1970s.

Comparing Soybean Yields to Trend

State soybean yields for Illinois have been exceptional from 2014 through 2016. In 2014, Illinois' soybean yield was 56 bushels per acre. The 2014 yield was a record high, 4.5 bushels per acre higher than the next highest yield of 51.5 set in 2010. The 2015 state yield again was 56 bushel per acre. In 2016, a new record will be set, with state yield estimated at 62 bushels per acre in the October Crop Production report produced by the National Agricultural Statistical Service. A 2016 yield of 62 bushels per acre would be 6 bushels per acre higher than the previous highest yield set in 2014 and 2015.

Comparisons to trend further illustrate how high recent yields have been in Illinois (see Figure 1). Fitting a linear trend through soybean yields results in an increase of .48 bushels per year. The 2014 through 2016 yields are significantly above the trend: 5.1 bushels in 2013, 4.6 bushels per acre in 2015, and 10.1 bushels per acre in 2016. The 2016 yield is a statistical outlier. Only one other yield has been 10 bushels away from the 1972-2016 trend, that being in the 1988 drought year when the actual yield was 11.5 bushels below trend



Why are Soybean Yields High?

Recent high soybean yields then lead to the question of what is causing the high yields. Have growing conditions been abnormally good in the past three years, leading to the high yields? Or has technology changed such that a higher yield should be expected in the future? Perhaps genetics have improved, or farmers' use of fungicides and other inputs have been leading to higher yields.

This question - is it good weather or technology changes - is difficult to answer from just observing time series of data. Two contradictory thoughts. Recent yields have been high, and the 2016 yield is a statistical outlier, suggesting technology changes. On the other hand, historical jumps in yields or trends have rarely occurred in the last 50 years. For example, corn yields appeared to be increasing at a faster after 1995 than before 1995. Belief in an increasing yield trend decreased after the poorer yields of 2010, 2011, and 2012. The recent high soybean yields in recent years may simply be a signal of exceptional growing conditions.

Soybeans Compared to Corn Trends

While soybeans have had exceptional yielding years recently, soybeans relatively to corn yields have not been at historically high levels. Figure 2 shows soybean yields divided by corn yields. Higher levels indicate that soybean yields are higher relative to corn. In 2016, soybeans divided by corn yield is .31, which is not above average.



Over time, soybeans-to-corn yields have been trending downwards. An expected level of soybean-to-corn yields in 1972 was .32. The .31 value in 2016 is below the expectation in 1972. The Illinois state yield for 2016 is projected at 202 bushels per acre. For a .32 soybean-to-corn yield ratio to result in 2016, soybean yield would have to be 64.6 bushels, 2.6 bushels higher than currently projected.

Soybean yields have been declining relative to corn yields because of higher trends for corn. In Illinois, corn yields have been increasing by 1.8 bushels per year compared to .48 bushels per year for soybeans. Over time, the higher increase in corn yields causes lower soybean-to-corn yields

Summary

Soybean yields in Illinois have been exceptional in recent years, with yields being much higher than trend yields. It is too early to say that a permanent change has occurred, and history suggests permanent changes occur rarely.


October 18, 2016

Big Crop Strong Exports an interview with Todd Hubbs

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.

...read FarmDocDaily article.


October 12, 2016

USDA October Reports

University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good reviews the October 12, 2016 Crop Production and WASDE reports including his thoughts on how it changes off-farm storage decisions.


October 06, 2016

Harrington Seed Destructor Testing

The Harrington Seed Destructor is being tested for infield efficacy at the University of Illinois to control herbicide resistant weeds.


October 03, 2016

Big Corn and Soybean Crops Get Bigger is a Myth!

with Scott Irwin, Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois

There is a long-standing market saying that "big crops get bigger and small crops get smaller." This statement refers to the yield forecasting cycle of the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). That cycle for corn and soybeans consists of monthly yield forecasts that begin in August and extend through November and culminate with the final yield estimate for the season that is released in January following harvest. Specifically, the statement implies that early NASS yield forecasts are "conservative" in years when yields are high and get larger as the forecast cycle progresses and are "optimistic" in years when yields are low and get smaller as the forecast cycle progresses. These notions are tied to the more general idea that NASS yield forecasts are "smoothed," meaning that the final yield estimate results from cumulative monthly changes in forecasts in the same direction. Some tend to believe that smoothing of NASS yield forecasts, particularly in years of yield extremes, is intentional in order to minimize or spread the price impact of very large or small yields. Alternatively, yield forecasts may appear to be intentionally smoothed simply due to the fact that forecasts become more accurate during the forecast cycle as more actual yield information is incorporated into the forecasts.


September 29, 2016

Grain Farm Working Capital Nearly Exhausted

Four consecutive years of lower commodity prices has nearly exhausted the financial resources of U.S. grain farmers. Todd Gleason looks into the problem with an agricultural economist from the University of Illinois.


September 28, 2016

Too Early to Sell the 2017 Soybean Crop

There’s a nagging question farmers are wondering about as they harvest what is quite likely to be their best soybean crop ever. Is it so good, so plentiful, that it might be time to consider selling some of next year’s crop.



Let’s start with some plain facts. The price of soybeans from April through August was higher, on average, than it was in the prior seven months. This says Darrel Good is because the trade expected there to be a whole lot of soybeans leftover from last years harvest by the time right now arrived. Something like 450 million bushels. That didn’t happen. The South American crop failed and U.S. exports jumped by 250 million bushels. Like most of the previous years, all but one since 2008, this left fewer than 200 bushels in the bin from the previous season’s soybean crop. Here’s how Good, a University of Illinois Agricultural Economist, says that should all play out in the coming months.

With consumption during the 2016–17 marketing already projected to be record large, an increase in the average yield forecast (without an unexpected decline in the estimate of harvested acreage) would likely result in an increase in the current projection of year-ending stocks of 365 million bushels. Two additional factors point to the potential for additional weakness in soybean prices during the 2016–17 marketing year. -Darrel Good

First, and you can read this on the Farm Doc Daily website, USDA expects a modest increase in soybean acreage for harvest in South America next year. While an increase of only 1.5 percent is currently projected (mostly in Brazil), normal yield levels result in a projected 3.5 percent (220 million bushels) year-over-year increase in soybeans from the southern hemisphere. If that large crop materializes, the pace of U.S. exports would be expected to experience the normal sharp seasonal decline beginning in the spring of 2017. A second factor that could contribute to lower soybean prices, says Darrel Good, is an increase in soybean acreage in the U.S. next year.

While it is too early to form solid expectations about U.S. acreage, low prices of other commodities relative to soybeans would be expected to result in some switch away from those crops to soybeans. In particular, the large increase in corn acreage in 2016, prospects for relatively large year-ending corn inventories, and the relatively high cost of producing corn would be expected to result in fewer corn acres in 2017. Futures prices for the 2017 corn and wheat crops are higher than prices for the 2016 crop, but those prices are still low relative to prices for the 2017 soybean crop. The USDA’s Winter Wheat Seedings report released in the second week of January 2017 will provide the first indication of acreage response to current price levels. The size of the 2017 soybean crop will still largely hinge on the average yield. It will be interesting to observe if three consecutive years of above trend U.S. average soybean yields will alter early expectations for the average yield in 2017.

Here’s what Darrel Good thinks this all means at the moment. With so much production uncertainty over the next 10 months, a strong pace of Chinese buying, and the recent history of smaller than expected year-ending stocks, it is not completely surprising that the market is not yet reflecting the potential for a growing surplus of soybeans during the 2017–18 marketing year. The question for producers, he says, is whether or not current prices offer a pricing opportunity for a portion of the 2017 crop.

The answer is more likely to be yes for those who intend to increase soybean acreage in response to the current corn, wheat, and soybean price relationships.


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