Grains

China’s Increased Appetite Drives Wheat to Multi-Year Highs, What’s Behind the Developing Demand?

Wheat futures rallied this week to levels U.S. farmers haven’t seen in six years. According to Pro Farmer, wheat prices jumped Friday on rumors China was shopping for French and U.S. wheat. The added interest from China continues to help major commodity prices, including soybeans and lean hogs, trend higher. The question many want to know is “why is China buying so much from the U.S.?" One University of Nebraska economist says the answer isn't simple. “Clearly, they've been strong buyers in the market,” says Brad Lubben, policy and extension specialist, University of Nebraska “There was hope back in January with a Phase One agreement that purchases were going to go way up. Well, you don't ever fundamentally know from a commitment to buy, whether it translates into actual purchases.” Lubben says COVID-19 slowed China’s appetite, however, as the economy is rebounding, China is returning to the market in a big way. “The rate they're buying now is certainly supportive of the positive market prices, but whether we can determine exactly what their policy is, we'll know after the fact, and we'll assess how much they really bought.” Lubben says China could be buying to help rebuild its domestic reserves, or possibly to feed the growing hog herd in the country as Chinese pork producers try to recover from ASF. He says no matter what the answer is, it won't known until after the fact. “It's always difficult to know what a closed economy system or a state-run economy system is doing,” he says. “It's difficult to know what's happening in the market until we come out after the fact and find out what really happened.” The increased appetite from China is coming at a time when farmers are seeing impressive harvest pace. What seems to be a quick harvest may typically add pressure to commodity prices, however 2020 is proving that’s not always the case. “This is something that shows how marketing works,” says Cory Walters of the University of Nebraska. “It's very random. You can't predict it. And you never know when those things are going to come.” The marketing plans that seemed to pay off this year are the ones who held on to their crop and waited to sell. Walters says that may not be the case next year. “There are always strategies that win,” adds Walters. “But you never know at the beginning of the year what's going to happen; you still have to take that survival point of view.” While Walters thinks these prices should entice more farmers to sell grain, he says leaving some bushels unpriced could help farmers who fear they will miss out on higher prices. Walter says those unpriced bushels will help farmers sell into potential future rallies.
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Put the Crop Mix Puzzle Together Before 2021

Are your crop plans rock solid, immoveable and destined to never change? Or do you respond to market and cost-saving opportunities? When it comes to selecting your crop mix, how flexible are you? “Every field needs to have some type of budget so that at the end you can put all of those fields together to get your operation budget,” says Andrew Phillips, Channel seedsman. “That budget allows you to look at your management scheme and know where you can be more aggressive in savings or more aggressive in input purchases.” If you have flexibility, market opportunities, cost savings and agronomic factors could, and probably should, come into play as you make a game plan for next year’s crop on each field. Examine your situation, understand your budget and make decisions on a field-by-field basis. Balance budgets and markets Take a look at your bottom line—and understand how yield and  profit potential varies by crop. In addition, pay attention to what the markets are doing now and if you can lock in any prices even before seed hits the soil. “I’m in a heavier corn-on-corn area and it’s often hard to break that cycle,” says Adam Mayer, Golden Harvest agronomist. “A lot of times the economics don’t allow that, but this year it looks like the soybean crop could provide good opportunities.” Switching crops comes with new considerations. If you’re switching from continuous corn to soybeans, there could be savings in terms of fungicides and insecticides, though herbicides will likely be the same or slightly higher cost than in corn, Mayer explains. However, if either corn or soybean markets or opportunities seem appealing enough that you repeat the same crop two years in a row, you could see new pressures. Plan for potential for increased insect pressures such as corn rootworm and the potential for higher rates of diseases such Sudden Death Syndrome and Brown Stem Rot. Consider the environment In many cases, the weather and fertility situation in which you find yourself can go hand-in-hand with the agronomic factors that weigh on your crop decision. If you’re low on moisture, you might need to look for seed genetics with moisture flexibility. At the same time, you need to consider disease and trait packages. “Try to build a plan that covers every single base from fertility to seed selection,” says Phillips. “For example, in some areas we know we’re headed into a season that we don’t have adequate soil moisture—you can make revisions based on that.” If you have heavy insect pressures in corn, or high weed pressure in soybeans, be sure to consider those factors when making your rotation decisions. Everything – weather, markets, budget, field history and input prices – all work together to inform your annual crop decision.
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Harvest 2020: Some Homeruns, Some Swing and Miss

It’s all hands on deck across the Midwest as farmers race to gather crops before bad weather descends and crop integrity deteriorates. Yield reports and crop conditions are coming in all over the board, with weather, planting dates and other factors coming into play. “It’s definitely a case of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ and everything in between,” says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist. “Many guys are harvesting drought damaged crops where the beans and the corn died prematurity. With corn, moisture tells the story.” Drought areas that died early are coming in at 18% with the rest of the field around 25%, he says. And if there are replant spots in that same field, they’re coming in at 35%. It’s a nightmare for anyone trying to manage corn driers. Corn yields are every bit as variable as moisture content. Ferrie is hearing reports from drought-stricken farmers that range from 120 to 170 bu. per acre and non-moisture stressed fields showing major swings from 120 to 270 across the field for a whole-field average around 200, 210 bu. per acre. “Early soybeans that died have wide swings as well,” Ferries as. “Field averages are as low as 25 bu. up to the mid-50s. Areas that picked up August rains are seeing big dividends there, with bean yields from the 70s to the 80s and corn yields in the 250 to 300 bu. range.” The big corn yields are coming from the fields you’d expect—the ones with picture perfect finishes, green from top to bottom and bright colored ears. Ferrie says this will be a learning year for sure. “We’ll see some interesting differences between bean maturities and planting dates when this is all done,” he says. “This year is a good example of why you don’t put all your eggs in one basket—you never know what Mother Nature will throw at you.” In terms of field conditions, he is still seeing and getting reports of Tar Spot, corn rootworm resistance—even in fields planted with traited products and crown rot. Just because it’s harvest, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be out scouting and taking notes for next year. Mind harvest loss Two kernels per square foot is one bushel lost, and four soybeans per square foot is a bushel lost.  Check every field and every hybrid or variety as grain size changes and conditions change. “A good target to shoot for is less than 2% loss in corn and less than 3% loss in the beans,” Ferrie says. “Check loss when you swing hard like they are in fields in dry areas. If there’s a 100 bu. swing in the corn, stop and check harvest loss. We might have to readjust strippers and speed in those areas.”
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Bayer Resolves More Roundup Cases, Judge Keeps Pause On Litigation

Attorneys for Bayer AG and consumers suing the company over allegations its Roundup weed killer caused cancer told a judge on Thursday they are continuing to resolve thousands more cases, improving prospects for its $11 billion deal to end the litigation. The hearing was a contrast to the contentious tone among the parties last month that raised concerns the framework deal might unravel. Ken Feinberg, who is mediating talks, said his "optimism knows no bounds," and that he expected the next set of cases scheduled for trial to soon settle. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco kept a stay on litigation until Nov. 2 and asked the parties for a status update at that time. The parties have binding deals to resolve about 45,000 of the 125,000 filed and unfiled claims, according to attorneys involved. Settlements have been reached with each of the lawyers who took cases to trial. Bayer, which acquired Roundup with its purchase of Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018, agreed in June to pay around $11 billion to settle the lawsuits, which have pummeled the company's share price. Bayer's stock closed down 1% on Thursday at 54.41 euros. Shares have slumped from a high of around 73 euros since the June settlement announcement. Chhabria had questioned the fairness of the settlement plan, which proposed using an independent scientific panel to assess whether glyphosate-based weed killers such as Roundup caused cancer. Days later, Bayer said it would revise that part of the proposal. Bayer has said Roundup is safe and important to farmers who use the herbicide in combination with the company's genetically modified seeds. In 2015, the World Health Organization's cancer research arm determined the herbicide to be a "probable carcinogen." U.S. and the European regulators have determined glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic.
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ASF Numbers in Germany Grow; U.S. Hog Futures Rise

U.S. hog futures rose on Tuesday after more cases of African swine fever (ASF) were discovered in wild boars in Germany. Government officials in Germany warn more cases of ASF in wild boars are to be expected because they move in groups and the virus is easily transmitted. Europe’s largest pork producer reported its first outbreak of ASF in a wild boar on Sept. 9. The total is up to 32 since the first case was discovered. To date, the cases have been located close to the first one in the east German state of Brandenburg. Nine cases were confirmed in Brandenburg on Sept. 23 and three more cases on Sept. 24, Reuters reports. “Prices for weaner piglets in Germany have fallen sharply in past weeks following the discovery of ASF in the country,” AgDay’s Clinton Griffiths reports. Christine McCracken, executive director – animal protein for Rabobank, said in the short run, the announcement gave a little life to the market. “For the U.S., for example, we might pick up some of that,” McCracken said on AgDay TV. “The challenge though, is that there are lot of other European countries, Denmark or Spain, that process a lot of the same product that Germany does.” Other European countries may be a better fit than imports from the Americas. “It doesn't mean we can't see a benefit. It’s still a global meat block. You have to think about when somebody loses, somebody else gains. But it's probably not the huge opportunity that the market initially thought," McCracken explains.
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China’s Looming Corn Shortage Fans Food Security Unease

Soaring corn prices are stoking food security jitters in China, where food inflation has climbed to the highest in over a decade and President Xi Jinping made a recent high-profile plea for an end to wastage. The price surge in corn - critical for China's mammoth hog, dairy and poultry sectors - is the latest in a series of ructions that include a devastating pig disease, pandemic-driven upsets for international suppliers and warnings of a growing food supply gap. Prices have risen as the country heads for its first real corn shortfall in years in the upcoming 2020/21 season starting in October and could face a deficit of up to 30 million tonnes, around 10% of its total crop, say analysts and traders. That would be a likely boon for major exporters like the United States and Ukraine, but threatens to push up global prices and have a knock-on impact elsewhere as some corn users switch to other grains. "It is certain that there will be a corn shortage in the future, and we would need to import a lot next year," said an executive with a state-owned trading firm, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to talk to media. Maintaining food supplies is a major source of political legitimacy for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, but it has struggled to balance central planning with grain market forces. Struggling with bulging stockpiles, China four years ago abandoned a scheme that paid farmers above-market prices for corn and has since produced less of the grain than it consumes. The state stockpiles that supplemented supply are now nearly gone. Corn prices in Jiamusi at the heart of China's grain basket hit a five-year high at 2,050 yuan (224.2 pounds) a tonne on Aug. 26, up 27% since the start of the year, before edging down in recent few days. This has contributed to a broader rise in food prices, also driven by severe flooding in the south, pockets of drought in the northern grain belt, and a continuing pork shortage. President Xi underscored concerns when he urged the nation to stop "shameful" food wastage, prompting many local governments to launch related campaigns. IMPORT BOOM? China expects a bumper 2020/21 corn crop at around 266.5 million tonnes but still not enough to meet demand, according to the agriculture ministry, which forecasts year-end stocks of minus 16.7 million tonnes. That shortfall could be up to 30 million tonnes, according to five analysts and traders surveyed by Reuters, far exceeding China's current import quota of seven million tonnes, a figure it has never filled. "If the government does not loosen regulations regarding the import quota, we will be facing a huge shortage," said a Shanghai-based domestic agriculture products trader. The National Development and Reform Commission, which sets grain quotas, did not respond to a fax seeking comment on its quota plans. Still, the need for imports is likely to be limited by substitution, given China's ample supplies of other staple grains, as well as imports of other substitute grains like sorghum and barley. "Based on the aggressive new crop buying we're seeing for U.S. corn, it seems increasingly likely China will raise the quota or make some changes," said Darin Friedrichs, senior analyst at StoneX in Shanghai. "But I don't anticipate (it) being too big. I think roughly about 10 million tonnes seems reasonable, for next year." Feed manufacturers that use nearly 200 million tonnes of corn a year to fatten hogs and chickens are already turning to more plentiful wheat. Feed wheat use in the 2020/21 crop year could rise as high as 20 million tonnes, up about 5 million tonnes from previous years, and about 15% of output, said a government think-tank researcher who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to talk to media. China, meanwhile, has vowed to make record U.S. agricultural purchases this year as part of its Phase 1 trade deal, and made its biggest purchase of U.S. corn in a month last week as it looks to boost supplies. "Corn on the international market is so cheap, why not?" said the trading firm executive.
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Taiwan Paves Way For U.S. Trade Deal By Easing Pork, Beef Imports

Taiwan paved the way for an eventual free trade deal with the United States on Friday by announcing an easing of restrictions on the import of U.S. beef and pork, as the island looks to boost ties with Washington at a time of tensions with China.
Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the United States, its most important supporter on the international stage, but Washington has complained about barriers to access for U.S. pork and beef. Taiwan said that was for health grounds, especially with concerns over mad cow disease and additives. President Tsai Ing-wen said her government planned to allow the import of U.S. pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness, and allow in U.S. beef more than 30 months old.
"The decision is in line with the country's overall interests and the goals of the nation's strategic development. It's also a decision that could boost Taiwan-U.S. ties," she said. "If we can take one crucial step forward on the issue of U.S. pork and beef, it will be an important start for Taiwan-U.S. economic cooperation at all fronts." U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the United States welcomed Taiwan's move and removing "these long-standing barriers" opened the door to greater economic and trade cooperation. "We look forward to the timely implementation of these actions, which will provide greater access for U.S. farmers to one of East Asia’s most vibrant markets, and for Taiwan consumers to high-quality U.S. agricultural products," she said. Tsai said  that while it may take a while to reach a bilateral trade agreement with the United States, she had a positive attitude on the issue. The United States is an "extremely important" trade partner for Taiwan, and the decision has nothing to do with the upcoming U.S. presidential election, she added. Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung said the eased pork and beef rules were expected to come into effect on Jan. 1. Taiwan-U.S. trade last year was worth $85.5 billion, with the United States running a $23.1 billion deficit. Taiwan was the United States' 14th biggest export market in 2019. The United States, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing as sovereign Chinese territory. China has been stepping up its military activities near Taiwan. Export-dependent, tech powerhouse Taiwan has also been pushing for an investment agreement with the European Union.
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Pro Farmer: Corn and Soybean Yields Lower than USDA Estimates

While it’s difficult to predict the future, Pro Farmer uses information gathered in its annual Crop Tour as well as other data the team collects to estimate total production each year. This year has presented farmers across the Midwest with a myriad of challenges, which are accounted for in the group’s national corn and soybean yield estimates. Corn: 177.5 bu. per acre, 14.820 billion bu. production. Pro Farmer says production and yield could go plus or minus 1%, which equals 14.968 billion bu. to 14.672 billion bu. and 179.3 bu. to 175.7 bu. per acre yield. Soybeans: 52.5 bu. per acre, 4.362 billion bu. production. Soybean margin of error is plus or minus 2%, which equals 4.449 billion bu. to 4.275 billion bu. of production and 53.6 to 51.5 bu. per acre yield. USDA’s August 12 report pegged corn production at a record 15.3 billion bu. and yield at 181.8 bu. per acre. Soybeans were estimated to hit 4.42 billion bu. with a record high yield at 53.3 bu. per acre. Pro Farmer’s estimate for corn yield is 2.37% lower than USDA, and production is 3.14% lower than USDA production. The Pro Farmer soybean yield is 1.5% lower than USDA, with 1.31% lower total production estimates.

Breakdown by state.

Pro Farmer uses data gathered in the Crop Tour, crop maturity, acreage adjustments they’ve made, historical differences in the tour’s findings versus USDA final yields and areas outside of the sampled areas on the tour to gather their estimates. State number estimates below differ from Crop Tour numbers. The estimates for national corn and soybean yields would be records still—just not as big as USDA estimated. In addition, the group cut 525,000 acres from harvested corn acres (300,000 from Iowa alone), putting total harvested acres at 83.498 million.
  • Iowa: corn 180 bu. per acre, soybeans 55 bu. per acre. Western Iowa yields are diminishing because of drought. In addition, wind did destroy some of the crops across a wide swath of the state. While some will be harvested, further yield loss is likely. Soybeans are in desperate need of a rain; current soil moisture is down 46%.
  • Illinois: corn 205 bu. per acre, soybeans 62 bu. per acre. Pods are consistent on soybeans, but the state needs rain to finish strong. Corn isn’t the bin-buster some expected. Ear counts were below average, but grain length could be a savior if weather helps. Corn has more to lose than to gain at this point.
  • Nebraska: 188 bu. per acre corn, 59 bu. per acre soybeans. Irrigated yields were decent but not shockingly high numbers. Dryland likely won’t drag down the average and another rain would be beneficial for corn. Soybean fields are clean, but need a rain to get across the finish line without aborting pods—risk is to the downside.
  • Minnesota: 199 bu. per acre corn, 51 bu. per acre soybeans. Corn showed big, heavy ears with higher ear counts, grain length and kernel rows around than average. Soybean pod count was there for a record soybean yield. Soybeans need another rain to finish.
  • Indiana: corn 186 bu. per acre, soybeans 61 bu. per acre. Corn was variable, but August rains could help along with mild weather. About one-third of the corn crop still needs time to develop. Soybeans are consistent, well podded but dry. Another rain will help fill flat pods.
  • Ohio: corn 176 bu. per acre, soybeans 57 bu. per acre. Corn is too variable, because of dry areas, to beat the state’s 1028 record of 187 bu. per acre. Late-season rain could be the deciding factor on which way corn yields go. Soybeans also need a rain to ensure the crop beats its 2018 record of 56 bu. per acre.
  • South Dakota: 164 bu. per acre corn, 51 bu. per acre soybean. This year marks the best corn crop Pro Farmer has seen in the state. Another rain would clinch the deal. Soybeans are uniform, and if the state gets another rain the crop could be a monster.
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Illinois Yield Potential Shines Despite Mother Nature’s Challenges

When it rained, it poured and earlier this season, Illinois farmers just couldn’t get away from wet weather. It resulted in later planting, replant and some not-so-great planting conditions across much of the state. Despite it all, the state’s yields are beating three-year-average estimates. When it comes to corn, yields are expected to be 4.35% higher than the three-year average and soybeans 5.19% higher. Scouts did note that tar spot, a potentially devastating new disease, was in two of the counties sampled (Knox and Stark). While scouts did get into areas with damage, they aren't in the heart of it just yet. "We'll get more intensively into it [derecho area] tomorrow," says Brian Grete, Pro Farmer Editor. "It's hard to scout through. It'll take longer when it's laying down in multiple directions. You have to ID the row, count the ears, it just takes time. You have to start from the ground up and it's just time consuming."   Illinois corn yield is expected to hit 189.40 bu. per acre, and soybeans are anticipated to reach 1247.38 pods per 3X3 square. The three-year average for corn is just 181.51 bu. per acre and soybeans per 3X3 square are 1185.79. There were only three irrigated soybean fields and five irrigated corn fields sampled throughout the state. Doug Warters, scout on the eastern tour who made his way through Illinois and into Iowa today, said corn samples looked good but soybeans were more inconsistent along his route. Damage from the recent derecho started showing up on the western side of Illinois. For some farmers, harvest could be extremely challenging—especially on corn acres. “[For example] we had one field that we called ‘moderate’ lodging and wind damage where the corn was flat,” says Jim Smith, scout along the eastern leg of the Pro Farmer Crop Tour. “The yield estimate came out at 264 bu. per acre—but I’m sure we’re not going to get that 264 because the corn was so flat.” It’ll be a low and slow harvest, and farmers with reels will be in a better position to gather as much of the yield potential as possible. Soybeans, however, were better looking because they were earlier in their lifecycles and had less lodging. “All the fields we’ve sampled of soybeans have been extremely clean, no disease,” Smith says. “We still have a lot of questions on the beans though.” On many of the plants he said they were counting pods, but it was still flowering and had only recently pollinated. With cooperation from Mother Nature, a substantial number of pods could develop between now and harvest, he adds. As you’d expect, there was variation from crop district to crop district in terms of estimates. Check out each sampled district here (note corn is in bu. per acre and soybeans are in pods per 3X3 square):
  • District 1
    • Corn 183.63, 42 samples
    • Soybeans 1321.97, 41 samples
  • District 2
    • Corn 201.19, 12 samples
    • Soybeans 1220.00, 12 samples
  • District 3
    • Corn 195.63, 25 samples
    • Soybean 1330.94, 25 samples
  • District 4
    • Corn 189.61, 55 samples
    • Soybeans 1168.99, 55 samples
  • District 5
    • Corn 181.00, 53 samples
    • Soybeans 1192.27, 52 samples
  • District 6
    • Corn 203.71, 12 samples
    • Soybeans 1282.05, 12 samples
  • District 7
    • Corn 204.13, 14 samples
    • Soybeans 1386.12, 14 samples
Scouts took 213 corn samples and 211 soybean samples this year. This exceeds the total number of samples, 399, scouts gathered in 2019. First glance, Iowa burdened by drought and wind damage: As scouts snaked their way north and east from Nebraska and in from Illinois, the were inundated with clearly challenging conditions in the Hawkeye State. “[I’d walk in and] there’s a good ear population and when I pulled my fifth, eight and eleventh ear there was one-half to two inches of tip back—that’s not a good sign,” says Jeff Wilson, Pro Farmer director for the western leg of the tour. The tip back issues and pollination issues he saw boiled down to drought issues in the southwest part of the state. “The crop is mid-dent, so what you have is what you’re going to get,” he adds. “If you could get a little more rain maybe you could add test weight to make a higher quality crop.” Soybeans stayed consistent along his route. Drier areas, of course, came in a little lower, but where the soybeans had moisture Wilson counted more than 1300 pods per 3X3 square on a nine-stop average. If the rains keep coming the soybeans should meet yield estimate expectations. So far, scouts sampled three districts in the state. Here are the results so far (corn in bu. per acre, soybeans in pods per 3X3 square):
  • District 1
    • Corn 181.26, 81 samples
    • Soybeans 1013.31, 81 samples
  • District 4
    • Corn 172.41, 72 samples
    • Soybeans 1177.41, 71 samples
  • District 7
    • Corn 184.74, 55 samples
    • Soybeans 1164.03, 51 samples
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Iowa Says Derecho Destroyed Grain Storage

A severe windstorm last week destroyed or seriously damaged more than 57 million bushels of commercial grain storage capacity in Iowa and a similar amount on farms, the state's agriculture department estimated on Tuesday, raising concerns ahead of the autumn harvest. Fresh estimates of the damage from the Aug. 10 derecho emerged as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to visit Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the day after approving disaster aid for the state. The storm crumpled steel storage bins, flattened corn fields, caused widespread damage in towns and left thousands of people without power. The destruction compounded troubles for a U.S. agricultural economy already battered by extreme weather, the U.S.-China trade war and disruptions to labor and food consumption from the COVID-19 pandemic. Iowa's agriculture department said it will cost more than $300 million to remove, replace or repair the damaged grain storage bins.
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