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.