May 13, 2020

Corn, Soybeans, COVID-19, & the Farm Safety Net

It sure looks like COVID–19 is going to do some serious damage to the nation’s corn and soybean farmers. A new study from the University of Illinois estimates the damage at about eight billion dollars. This was the case on May the 5th.



That eight billion is a decline of nine percent across the nation and ILLINOIS Extension Ag Economist Gary Schnitkey says it does not include losses that have already piled up for corn and soybeans still in the bin from last year, "If you look at the 2019 crop, obviously there are losses on the 2019 crop from the sales value, we were looking forward at the 2020 crop and getting a feel for the losses on the 2020 crop."

That loss Gary Schnitkey is talking about is the difference between what farmers were expecting to make pre-COVID–19 and what they are likely to make post-COVID–19 on the 2020 corn and soybean harvest, "So we took the futures prices on that date to reflect what harvest prices would look like, projected forward the market-year-average based on that harvest price, and came up with estimates of losses given those futures prices today (May 5, 2020). We kept the trend-line yields the same, so the calculations would only show the (COVID–19) price decline as what’s happened to revenue."



The farmdoc Daily article shows these projected lost revenues by crop, but notes that, conceptually, this does not work in practice because commodity programs make payments on base acres combined not actual planted acres. Still, it provides an important guidepost. The per acre revenue difference for corn from February to May is $107 per acre. Again these are national averages and do not include any government payments. For soybeans, it is $36 per acre.

Combined the total nationwide loss from February to May is about $12 billion for the 2020 corn and soybean growing season. A projected PLC payment for corn covers about one-third of that loss says one of the articles co-authors, Ohio State University Ag Economist emeritus Carl Zulauf, "The eight-billion-dollar estimate in the article is after we’ve taken out our estimate of the PLC payment. The PLC payment right now is only for corn at the average. We do two estimates. One for a low price and one for an average price relationship. But the PLC payment at the average price relationship is covering about one-third of the total cost. So, in other words, it is around twelve-billion, but if you net it out you get to the eight-billion-dollars."



The eight-billion-dollar loss uses a basis calculation related directly to crop insurance. Stay with me here. It is the Market-Year-Average Cash Price minus the Crop Insurance Harvest Price. That’s 8 under for corn and 2 under for soybeans. If you use a wider basis under a low price scenario, say where there is a burdensome ending stocks number, those are 28 under for corn and 43 under for soybeans. In that case revenue loss is over $10 billion.

You may read the article summarizing the impact of COVID–19 on a corn and soybean farm on the farmDOC daily website.


May 06, 2020

USDA Details Defense Production Act

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sent letters to the nation's governors and meat supply-chain stakeholders Tuesday night detailing what is expected from them as it relates to President Trump's Defense Protection Act order. 

Links to the Letters
* Meat Supply-Chain DPA Letter to Governors
Meat Supply-Chain DPA Letter to Stakeholders

Essentially, it says to follow CDC/OSHA worker safety guidelines and to email a plan of action to reopen closed plants to USDA.


April 26, 2020

WHIP+: Farm Aid for Losses Due to Natural Disasters

farmdoc Daily article

The signup period for a program called WHIP+ (whip-plus) is open for farmers suffering losses because of natural disasters during the last two years.



WHIP+ is the continuation of a federal disaster aid program. Most farmers in the corn belt will recall it as the program used last year to bump up prevent plant payments by 15%. Congress introduced WHIP+ last summer, then during the December appropriations process, it dropped in an additional $1.5 billion dollars in funding and expanded qualifying crop losses to include losses due to excessive moisture and D3 and D4 drought.

Producers who suffered either of these types of losses in 2018 or 2019 can apply for WHIP+ assistance through a local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office today says University of Illinois Research Specialist Krista Swanson, "So, the program provides payments for yield losses but there are still a lot of unknowns. The signup period started March 23rd. However, FSA offices across the state do not have what they need to process the applications. So, there is a copy of the application online that people can look at and we are hearing that some counties are going ahead and filling those out with farmers. Other counties are just taking names and putting people on a list."

Again, although USDA opened signup March 23, 2020, county offices are not yet able to process applications and do not have an estimate on when they will be equipped to do so. Some counties are filling out the draft paperwork, others are simply taking names. The application is not difficult says Swanson, "They have provided a payment calculation and we can tell from it that a substantial yield loss will be required. It is based on the expected value of the crop to the value of the crop harvested. This is also reduced by any insurance indemnity payments. So, again you would have had to have a loss per the terms of the calculation that exceeded any crop insurance payment. We do not know what the value rate is in the calculation."

That missing value means almost every farmer should sign-up for WHIP+. Farmers can contact county FSA offices to express intent to apply and ask to be notified when applications can be processed. The USDA has not published a sign-up deadline. The WHIP+ program is not related to the coronavirus direct payments Congress funded through the recently passed CARES act.


April 26, 2020

US Corn, Soybeans, & Wheat in World Perspective: Importance of the US Cropped Acre Constraint

By Carl Zulauf, Agricultural Economist, The Ohio State University & Krista Swanson, University of Illinois ACES
link to farmdoc Daily article

Wide-spread concern exists over the large decline in US share of world corn, soybean, and wheat exports (see Figure 1). Moreover, quantity of corn and wheat exports have never consistently exceeded their early 1980 levels (see Figure 2). Tariff wars have heightened the concern. Long term impact of the tariff wars is a concern, but this article argues that graphs such as Figures 1 and 2 exaggerate the decline in US agriculture’s international standing and mask key relationships that frame private and public decisions. Data cited in this article come from PSD (Production, Supply, and Demand website).







Reasons for Exaggeration Growth in domestic US use is ignored. US consumption of meat, livestock products, and especially biofuels has grown, displacing exports, everything else remaining the same. Zulauf estimates US corn exports are 1.4 billion bushels smaller than if US corn market trends of 1984–2004 had continued to hold (farmdoc daily, 11/20/2019).

US policy changes are ignored. In particular, CRP (Conservation Reserve Program, which was authorized in 1985, pays for taking environmentally sensitive cropland out of production. Fewer cropped acres mean prices are higher than they would otherwise be. Higher prices reduce demand for exports more than domestic demand, resulting in fewer exports or slower growth in exports.
Broader markets in which a crop exists are ignored. Corn is a feed grain, soybean is an oilseed, and wheat is a food grain. Corn and soybeans are preferred among these crops around the world. However, their share of harvested feed grain-food grain-oilseed acres has increased more in the US (from 50% in 1972–1976 to 71% in 2015–2019 vs. 15% to 29% for rest of the world). Faster growth in preferred crops imparts an advantage to the US.

Conclusion

A more encompassing and likely more accurate measure of US agriculture’s international role is its share of aggregate world feed grain-food grain-oilseed production.
US share of world feed grain-food grain-oilseed production has declined, but by much less: from 19.3% in 1972–1976 to 16.2% in 2015–2019 (see Figure 3 and Data Note). This conclusion also holds for relative share decline. Relative decline in US share of world corn exports is –52%. It is calculated as percent change in 2015–2019 share from the 1972–1976 share, specifically [1 – (34.9% / 72.8%)] (percent values from Figure 1). Relative decline in US export share is –62% for soybeans and –69% for wheat. In contrast, relative decline in US share of world feed grain-food grain-oilseed production is only –16% (1 – (16.2% / 19.3%).




Closer Look

Because magnitude of a share matters, it is important to examine a share over its range of values (0% to 100%), as Figure 3 does. But, such a graph can mask important smaller, shorter-run changes. Figure 4, a smaller magnitude picture, clearly reveals 2 periods of decline. The first peak-to-trough is from 1982 (20.9%) to 1991 (16.3%). It closely follows the 1973–1980 crop prosperity period. The second peak-to-trough is from 2007 (17.6%) to 2015 (15.9%). It largely overlaps the 2007–2013 crop prosperity period. However, declines in 2018 and 2019 beg a question, “Have the tariff wars undone a possible stabilization in US share following large price declines since 2012?” Between the two declines, US share partially recovered, likely due in part to the large reduction in US prices due to policy changes enacted in the 1985 farm bill.




Role of US Acres Since the early 1980s, all growth in cumulative US production of feed grains, food grains, and oilseeds has come from yield as harvested acres declined by 26 million (see Figure 5). Since 2000, harvested acres have essentially not changed in the US while increasing by 301 million in the rest of the world. The constraint on US acres reflects both bioclimatic factors and public policy. It seems unlikely to change in the near future. The constraint means, if US domestic consumption grows faster than US yield, prices will increase, giving rest of the world an incentive to bring acres into production. This scenario played out as the US expanded its biofuel markets since 2000.




Summary Thoughts

A widely-expressed concern is the decline in US share of world corn, soybean, and wheat exports.
This decline however exaggerates the decline in US agriculture’s international standing. It also masks key relationships that frame private and public decisions.

A more accurate perspective is US share of world feed grain-food grain-oilseed production. This share has declined but by much less than US share of world corn, soybean, or wheat exports.
The decline occurred in two periods: 1982–1991 and 2007–2013. The second decline has, so far, been much less than the first. But, declines in 2018 and 2019 prompt the question, “Is the second decline resuming, especially in light of the tariff wars?”
A key feature of contemporary US agriculture is a constraint on cropped acres. Given this constraint, growing US demand faster than yield means most of the benefits accrue to the rest of the world as they bring more acres into production. Such has occurred since 2000 as the US expanded its biofuels markets.

The US cropland constraint prompts the following policy questions / issues. Given this constraint,

  • What is the appropriate role and funding for export promotion programs?
  • What should US biofuels policy be, in particular the size of mandated markets?
  • What should be the size and goal of US conservation land retirement programs?
  • What is the appropriate role and funding for public agricultural research?

These issues span multiple titles in the farm bill, suggesting the US cropped acres constraint could be a foundation theme directing debate over the next farm bill.


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