November 02, 2017

More Money Raising Soybeans

For four years in a row farmers in Illinois, other parts of the nation too, have made more money on soybeans than corn.



The numbers are pretty clear and University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey lays them out in an online farmdocDaily article. He says, on average, soybeans have been more profitable than corn since 2013, “One of the things we’ve seen is that soybean prices, when compared to corn, have been relatively strong since 2013. The ration of soybean to corn prices has been 2.74 since 2013, and it was 2.42 before that. So, we’ve seen soybean prices increase relative to corn prices.”

Farmers have responded to the higher soybean price.

When you look at historic price ratio changes, it is relatively easy to see when demand has pushed one crop over the other. The corn-based ethanol build up, for instance, from 2006 to 2013 has a soybean-to-corn price ratio of 2.42… that means the price of soybeans is 2.42 times greater than the price of corn.



Ethanol plants were being built around the United States at this time, and there was a big need for more bushels of corn. Farmers responded and planted more corn. That need has now leveled off at the same time China has been continually increasing its need for soybeans. Today the soybean-to-corn ratio is 2.72.

This ratio continually changes says Schnitkey, “We’ve seen soybean and corn have roughly the same revenue. That happened in the late 1980’s. So, it has happened in the past, and I think we are going to see the soybeans to be at least as profitable as corn for the foreseeable future. This is driven by strong demand for soybean exports. We have this growing demand for exports of soybeans. As long as that demand is there, we will continue to try and pull acres into soybeans.”

Just as an FYI, the long-term soybean-to-corn ratio, 1972 to present, is 2.55.


October 26, 2017

How Many U.S. Soybean Acres Needed in 2018


Listen to Todd Gleason’s full interview with U of I’s Todd Hubbs

read farmdocDaily post

Farmers in the United States have been planting more and more acres to soybeans. There is a simple reason behind this increase. Soybeans have been more profitable than other crops over the last several years. The question now is how many acres will they plant next year. University of Illinois Commodity Markets Specialist Todd Hubbs has been thinking about that one and he decided to determine how many acres are needed if the stocks-to-use ratio was to stay at about 7%.

Hubbs says that number should provide a $9.50 season’s average cash price, “If we assume seven-percent stocks-to-use in 2018/2019 would give us $9.50, which would cover the cost of production in Illinois based on current projections, how many acres of soybeans national under those assumptions would we need given a trend yield? Based on a trend yield of about 46.8 bushels to the acre, and it may be higher than that in 2018, we would need about 88.4 million harvested acres to get $9.50 based on a seven-percent stocks-to-use.”

If you use USDA’s long-term trend line yield for next year, 48.4 bushels to the acre, then the harvested acreage number must drop to about 85.4 million in order to get to the $9.50 season’s average cash price. That’s 86.2 million acres planted to soybeans in the United States next spring.


October 21, 2017

Calculating N-Rates for Corn | with Emerson Nafziger

University of Illinois Agronomist Emerson Nafziger says deep prairie soils can provide up to one-hundred-pounds of N annually. This makes nitrogen fertilizer applications less limiting than once thought. Todd Gleason talks with Nafziger about how farmers should calculate anhydrous ammonia rates this fall.



Timing Fall Nitrogen
by Emerson Nafziger, Extension Agronomist - University of Illinois
original blog post

The substantial rain that fell over central and northern Illinois between October 5 and 15 mostly soaked into the soil that was dried out by crop water use, and harvest has moved back to full speed in most areas. With harvest, thoughts turn to application of fall ammonia in central and northern Illinois. Almost everyone is on board with waiting until soil temperatures are at or below 50 degrees before applying ammonia. Cool soil (along with use of nitrification inhibitor) lowers the rate of nitrification, so helps preserve N in the ammonium form. Nitrogen present in the soil as ammonium is safe from loss.

Once air and soil temperatures start to decline in October, it’s natural to anticipate that soil temperatures will reach 50 soon, so some are inclined to start to apply before soil temperatures reach 50 degrees. But if we apply when soil is at 60 degrees and soil temperatures fail to drop quickly, or if they rise again after application, nitrification will continue and will persist as long as soils stay warmer. In fact, nitrification does not stop dead at 50 degrees; as a biological process, its rate drops off as temperature falls, but temperatures need to near freezing for nitrification to stop completely.

So we need to wait to apply fall ammonia not only until soil temperatures are 50 or less, but until we have reasonable confidence that they’ll stay there. In Illinois, we normally consider November 1 to be the date at which we can be reasonably sure that soil temperatures won’t rise again until the next spring. That’s not a sure thing, however – in both of the past two years, soil temperatures have gone above 50 at least once between November and February. But most years it’s a reasonable starting date to balance keeping N safe with getting fall application done.

Minimum air temperatures have fallen into the 40s this past week, which has people wondering if it might be OK to go ahead and start applying now. Minimum soil temperatures 4 inches deep under bare soil (from the Illinois Water Survey http://www.isws.illinois.edu/warm/soil) have dropped to the upper 40s to low 50s over much of the state each day between October 16 and 18 this week. The problem with using only the minimum soil temperature is that it doesn’t represent the actual soil temperature in the ammonia application zone. As Figure 1 shows, minimum soil temperatures (on clear days) are typically five degrees or so less than average soil temperatures for the day. So even though we may need a jacket on cool mornings this week, ammonia applied now is not going to be in soils with temperatures less than 50 degrees for some days or weeks.

Figure 1. Soil temperature at 4 inches under bare soil at three Illinois Climate Network sites on October 17, 2017. Source: Illinois State Water Survey.
Figure 1. Soil temperature at 4 inches under bare soil at three Illinois Climate Network sites on October 17, 2017. Source: Illinois State Water Survey.

Air temperatures are forecast to stay in the 70s the rest of this week, to fall into the 50s (with lows in the mid to upper 30s) next week, then to rise again (with dry weather) for some period after that. We’re already past the average first frost date for central and northern Illinois, and even with more seasonal temperatures coming the last week of October, it doesn’t look like ammonia applied now will be as safe from nitrification and possible loss as will ammonia applied in November.

If the soil is in condition to apply ammonia, soil temperatures are in the upper 40s, and the 10-day forecast doesn’t show above-normal temperatures settling in, the last few days of October might offer an opportunity to start applying ammonia. But what if early November is warmer than normal, and soil temperatures remain above 50? Delaying application, of course, moves us closer to having safer soil temperatures.

Average Illinois fall temperatures have been trending slowly upward for some decades now, and as we have seen the last few years, waiting until November 1 does not assure low soil temperatures as consistently as it did in the past. So if a stretch of warm weather is still in the forecast at the end of October, it might make sense to wait a little longer. Otherwise, patience in waiting another 10 days will likely be rewarded, even if – as is often be the case when doing the right thing – the reward isn’t very visible.


October 14, 2017

Comparison of 2016 ARC-CO and PLC Payments

link to full farmdocDaily article

The United States Department of Agriculture will issue farm safety net payments this month. Todd Gleason has more on the payments for this year, and projections for next year with University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey. You may listen to that conversation.



Schnitkey, his University of Illinois colleagues Nick Paulson & Jonathan Coppess, and Ohio State’s Carl Zulauf also explored how the 2016 ARC County payments would compare to those from its counterpart USDA safety net program, PLC. This exploration is a head to head look at how each program performed.

Check the farmdocDaily website for full details at www.farmdocdaily.illinois.edu.

The four academics compared PLC and ARC-CO payment levels per base acre in 2016. They looked at corn and wheat and then did a simple calculation for each to illustrate which USDA farm safety net program made the largest payments for 2016. They calculated by county, for the whole of the United States, the average county-wide ARC payment and then subtracted from it the calculated average county-wide PLC payment. The differences where mapped.

2016 Corn Payments | ARC-CO minus PLC

For corn, it shows ARC-CO payments per base acre exceed those from PLC in most of the counties in the western, Great Plains, and southeastern regions of the US. In more than 60% of counties where the ARC and PLC programs are available for corn base, the ARC-CO payment is at least $10 per base acre larger than the average PLC payment. The ARC-CO payment per base acre is more than $20 larger than the average PLC payment per base acre in more than 50% of counties.

The exception to this is in the Midwest. Many counties in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota would receive larger payments from PLC for the 2016 corn crop. Despite low prices, high yields in this region had an offsetting effect on ARC-CO payments. Average PLC payments exceed ARC-CO payments for corn by more than $10 per base acre in 27% of counties across the United States, and by more than $20 per base acre in 17% of counties. Most of those counties are in the corn belt.

This is not an unexpected outcome as ARC was projected to make much larger payments in the first years of the program, and then to taper off with PLC expected to make larger payments in the closing years of the current farm bill. It did this more evenly across the United States for the 2016 wheat base.

The vast majority of counties trigger larger PLC payments per base acre for 2016 wheat. The average PLC payment is more than $10 larger than the ARC-CO payment in nearly 92% of counties with ARC and PLC programs for wheat base. The average PLC payment is more than $20 per base acre larger than the ARC-CO payment in more than 57% of the counties. This large payment difference of more than $20 per base acre captures the main wheat producing areas of the country.

2016 Wheat Payments | ARC-CO minus PLC

Again, while low wheat prices had the effect of triggering PLC and ARC-CO payments, most wheat producing areas experienced high yield levels, offsetting the price effect for ARC-CO payments. Less than 1% of counties triggered an ARC-CO payment per wheat base acre larger than the average PLC payment.

In summary, the farmdoc team finds low commodity price levels led to PLC payments being triggered for a number of program crops in 2016, including corn and wheat. Their models show the size of PLC payments per base acre vary regionally by the size of PLC program yields for those crops, with larger payments being triggered in areas with larger program yields. This includes the Midwest region for corn, and the Midwest, Great Plains, and Western regions for wheat.


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