August 24, 2015

Corn Prices Reflect Export Concerns

December corn futures have been on roller coaster ride up and down this year. First it appeared there would be way to much of the grain, and then - because of the rains - maybe too little, and now it feels like the too-little might become just enough.

The just enough to meet the need has put pressure on the market to move lower. This weakness, writes Darrel Good in this week’s online Farm Doc Daily article, is coming from the supply side. There is a general agreement USDA’s corn production forecast will not increase. It, in August, put this fall’s corn harvest at 13.686 billion bushels. Instead, market commentary seems to suggest the trade is expecting the yield forecast to decline by as much as three to four bushels to the acre. So the crop is getting smaller, but so’s the price. It’s about demand says Good. Continuing weakness in corn prices reflects perceived demand weakness. Concerns about demand may stem from two sources. First is the concern that exports of U.S corn will fall short of the current USDA projection of 1.85 billion bushels. Second, is the concern about slow economic growth domestically and globally.

Clearly, domestic consumption of corn during the 2015–16 marketing year is not of immediate concern. The USDA projection of 5.25 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol production is consistent with the 5.2 billion expected for the marketing year just ending and a modest increase in domestic gasoline consumption next year.

The projection of 5.3 billion bushels for feed and residual use next year equals the projection for the current year. Another large crop implies large residual use of corn and low corn prices along with steady to higher animal numbers should support actual feed consumption of corn. On-the-other-hand USDA projects corn exports during the 2015–16 marketing year that begins on September 1 at 1.85 billion bushels, equal to the projection for the current year. However, total outstanding sales of U.S. corn for export during the 2015–16 marketing year are relatively small says Darrel Good.

It is recognized that the magnitude of early sales is not a good predictor of marketing year exports. Since 2005, sales as of mid-August as a percentage of marketing year exports have ranged from about eight percent (2005–06) to 42 percent (2012–13) and averaged 18 percent. Current sales represent 12 percent of the USDA projection for the upcoming marketing year. Still, the small export sales total is concerning in the context of potentially weak world demand, the relatively strong U.S. dollar, and expectations of large supplies of corn in other exporting countries.

Factually, with nearly 55 weeks remaining until the end of the 2015–16 marketing year, export sales need to average about 30 million bushels per week in order for exports to reach 1.85 billion bushels. Here’s how this all plays out on the farm. Producers will need to evaluate the corn storage decision says Darrel Good. Current low prices mean farmers will likely choose to store much of the crop that has not yet been priced. The current basis in the cash market and the carry in the futures market give some indication about the potential return to storing corn. In central Illinois, for example, the average cash bid for harvest delivery reflects a basis of about -$.30 relative to December 2015 contract and -$0.52 relative to July 2016 futures. Good says if the July basis improves to about -$.05 by June 2016 (as it did this year) the market is offering about $0.47 per bushel to store corn for about nine months.

That return would cover the out of pocket costs of farm storage, but may be closer to breakeven for commercial storage costs for some producers. The only way to capture the storage return, however, is to forward price the stored crop in the cash or futures market. The spot price of corn will have to increase by more than $0.47 by next spring in order for the return on corn stored unpriced to exceed the likely return to a storage hedge.

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

August 01, 2015

Corn Price Fade may be too Early

The price of corn has dropped because the trade believes there will be plenty of it around. Farmers, generally, are not convinced that will be the case, at least east of the Mississippi River.

The price of corn in Chicago increased about $0.90 per bushel from mid-June to mid-July. The increase was driven by a combination of a smaller-than-expected USDA estimate of June 1 stocks and production concerns stemming from record June rainfall in much of the eastern Corn Belt. Over the past two weeks, corn futures prices have declined nearly $0.80 per bushel as production concerns have subsided. Today the trade thinks, based on price, the amount of corn available for the next year will be more than needed.

CME Group December Corn Futures - Daily Chart

There are couple of ways this could change. University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good says a tighter supply and demand balance sheet for the coming year could be generated by a tighter supply of old crop corn carried into that new marketing year.

Darrel Good - Based on the current pace of ethanol production, for example, the use of corn for ethanol production during the current marketing year (ending August 31) could be about 10 million bushels more than the current USDA projection of 5.2 billion bushels. Similarly, exports could be slightly larger than the projection of 1.85 billion bushels if Census Bureau export estimates for June, July, and August exceed the USDA export inspection estimates as was the case in the first nine months of the marketing year. However, for carryover stocks to be lower than the current projection of 1.79 billion bushels by enough to meaningfully alter the 2015–16 supply and demand balance would require larger than expected feed and residual use of corn during the final quarter of the marketing year.

This won’t be known until the Grain Stocks report is released September 30th. A tighter supply and demand balance sheet for corn could also result from larger than expected consumption during the year ahead. Such a development would obviously take time to unfold, but opportunities for consumption to exceed the current projection appear to be limited thinks Good. This leaves the size of the crop in the ground as the primary lever by which prices might be pushed higher.

Darrel Good - The trade's average yield expectation appears to be near 165 bushels, 1.8 bushels less than projected in the July 10 USDA WASDE report. The August production forecast will also reflect the estimate of harvested acreage, but a large change from the June acreage forecast is not expected. Based on the projection of 81.1 million acres harvested for grain, a yield of 165 bushels would result in a crop of 13.38 billion bushels, about 150 million bushels less than projected in the July WASDE report. Still, if 2015–16 marketing year consumption is near the current USDA projection of 13.735 billion bushels, year-ending stocks would be abundant at about 1.45 billion bushels. On the other hand, a yield forecast of 161 bushels or less would likely be sufficient to push prices back to the mid-July highs.

Recent corn price declines indicate, says Darrel Good, that the market is removing the production risk premium from the price structure in anticipation of another year of surplus. The question is whether that removal is premature. The USDA’s Crop Production report to be released on August 12 will contain the first survey-based yield and production forecasts for the 2015 crop.

July 23, 2015

Projected 2015 Net Incomes on Grain Farms

by Gary Schnitkey, Extension Agricultural Economist - University of Illinois

Average 2015 net income for grain farms in Illinois is projected at around $15,000 per farm, down considerably from the 2014 average of slightly above $100,000 per farm (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the 2015 net income will be below incomes in 2010 through 2012 which were above $200,000 per farm. This decline in incomes raises questions.


What do incomes in Figure 1 represent?

Historical values in Figure 1 are average net farm incomes of grain farms enrolled in Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM). These farms are located throughout Illinois and represent a variety of farm sizes, tenure relationships, and debt positions. Farms have increased in size over time. In 2014, average farm size was close to 1,500 acres, but the sample included many smaller farms and may larger farms. There were a relatively large number of farms of over 5,000 acres.

How was the 2015 net farm income projected?

Commodity prices, yields, input costs, and cash rents were projected for 2015. More detail on these projections are contained in the 2015 budgets which are summarized in the July 7th FarmDoc daily article. Key items impacting projections are:

  • Commodity prices are $4.20 per bushel for corn and $10.00 per bushel for soybeans.
  • Yields are presumed to be near trend line levels.
  • Non-land costs are projected to declines slightly from 2014 levels.
  • Cash rents are projected to decrease slightly from 2014 levels.

Can 2015 net incomes vary from projections?

Of course. Differences in prices and yields from those used in projections will change incomes. For example, corn price could easily be $.50 per bushel different from the $4.20 price used in projections. With higher prices or higher yields, 2015 net incomes could be above $50,000. However, it is difficult to build a case where 2015 incomes are not considerably lower than 2014 incomes.

Why are 2015 net incomes projected so much lower than 2014 net incomes?

The projected 2015 commodity prices ($4.20 for corn and $10.05 for soybean) are above commodity prices received for 2014 crop (likely $3.70 for corn and $9.75 for soybeans). Given higher prices, why then are projected 2015 incomes lower than 2014 net incomes? Two reasons:

  • Trend line yields are used in 2015 projections. Much of Illinois had above average yields in 2014, contributing to higher net incomes.
  • Marketing gains contributed a large amount to 2014 incomes. Grain produced in 2013 was valued at a lower price on the end-of-year 2013 income than it was sold in 2014. More detail is provided in the May 27th FarmDoc daily article.

Why is projected 2015 net income lower than averages between 2000 through 2005?

From 2000 to 2005, net incomes on Illinois grain farms averaged $57,500, higher than incomes projected in 2015. When making 2015 projections, a $4.20 corn price and $10.00 soybean price are used. These 2015 projected prices are significantly above prices from 2000 to 2005 when prices received by Illinois farmers averaged $2.18 for corn and $5.69 for soybeans. Given higher prices, revenue is projected higher in 2015 than from 2000–2015. However, costs are projected much higher as well. For example, non-land costs for corn have increased 224% from $256 per acre average from 2000–05 to $578 per acre in 2015. Cash rents have increased 205% from $139 per acre to a projected $286 per acre. These cost increases are the primary factor offsetting higher commodity prices, leading to lower projected incomes in 2015.

Will lower incomes signal financial stress?

These lower incomes suggest the need for continuing financial adjustments. More on the financial strength and need for adjustments will be covered in the July 28th FarmDocDaily article.

July 21, 2015

Something USDA NASS Cooked Up

Scroll over each state to reveal how its crop condition has changed over the season. Ohio is particularly interesting.

July 17, 2015

Wheat Consumption Tracks Our Eating Habits

The following chart and commentary are posted to a USDA ERS website. Essentially it tracks how many pounds of wheat flour the average U.S. citizen has consumed per year since 1964. The ERS commentary on the reasons for the increase in consumption through the mid–1990’s and sudden drop near the turn of the century reflect the eating habits of a couple generations of Americans.

Wheat consumption stable among U.S. consumers in recent years

Per capita wheat flour consumption has been relatively stable in recent years, and is estimated in 2014 at 135 pounds per person, unchanged from 2013 but down 3 pounds from the recent peak in 2007. The 2014 estimate is down 11 pounds from the 2000 level when flour use started dropping sharply, partially due to increased consumer interest in low-carbohydrate diets. From the turn of the 20th century until about 1970, U.S. per capita wheat use generally declined, as strenuous physical labor became less common and diets became more diversified. However, from the early 1970s until the late 1990s, wheat consumption trended upward, reflecting growth in the foodservice industry and away-from-home eating, greater use and availability of prepared foods for home consumption, and promotion by industry organizations of the benefits of wheat flour and pasta product consumption. During this time, the domestic wheat market expanded on both rising per capita food use and a growing U.S. population.  Relatively stable per capita flour use in more recent years means that expansion of the domestic market for U.S. wheat is largely limited to the growth of the U.S. population. This chart is based on the April 2015 Wheat Outlook report.

July 16, 2015

Still Uncertainty About New Crop Corn

The rain fall throughout the corn belt has built a great deal of uncertainty around the size of this year’s corn crop as predicted by the United States Department of Agriculture says University of Illinois Ag Economist Darrel Good. He thinks the amount of this “uncertainty” is more than usually the case.

Crescent City, Illinois corn field July 15, 2015

USDA released projections for the 2015–16 corn marketing year July 10th. The next update is due August 12th. The new crop corn marketing-year ending stocks of corn are currently expected to be 172 million bushels smaller, and the average farm price is expected to be $0.25 higher, than projected a month earlier. Those are the numbers in question. Both are related to the size of this year’s crop, and the ILLINOIS agricultural economist has some thoughts on the “unknowns” as it relates to risk and price.

Quote Summary - In years with substantial production uncertainty, prices tend to be above the subsequent marketing year average during the growing season, offering producers the opportunity to forward price a portion of the crop. That pattern seems to be unfolding this year. New crop corn prices are currently above both the spring price for crop revenue insurance and above the upper end of the range of the USDA’s marketing year average price projection. Still, prices could trade in a relatively wide range over the next 10 weeks. Pricing decisions remain difficult for producers, particularly for those with substantial production uncertainty.

This price risk for corn, says Darrel Good can be mitigated with a combination of incremental sales at higher prices and options-strategies that provide a floor above the crop revenue price of $4.15 for December futures.

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