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Producers see negative net returns for corn, soybeans, and wheat in recent years

Friday, September 11, 2020

Producers of some of the U.S. major field crops have struggled to cover total costs of production over the past decade. The Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Commodity Costs and Returns product estimates this gap or surplus in the calculation of the value of production less total costs, referred to here as net returns. Total costs comprise operating costs, which include expenses such as fertilizer, seed, and chemicals, and allocated overhead (economic) costs, which include unpaid labor, depreciation, land costs, and other opportunity costs. Although revenue from selling crops can typically cover operating costs each year, net returns have often been negative. This suggests that, in some cases, allocated overhead costs are not covered. Corn’s net returns increased early in the decade, primarily due to a boom in the production of corn-based ethanol. Corn yields and acreage remained high after the boom, leaving supply high and leading, in part, to lower prices and returns over time. Net returns for soybeans shadowed those for corn during the ethanol boom, remaining higher than those for corn up until 2018. Wheat prices and returns also declined, due to strong international competition and several high-yield domestic crops. This chart is derived from data collected from the ERS Commodity Costs and Returns data product. Its data can also be viewed via ERS’s interactive data visualization product, U.S. Commodity Costs and Returns by Region and by Commodity.

Soybean-to-corn price ratio signals increasing soybean profitability

Monday, August 24, 2020

The soybean-to-corn price ratio is often used as one of several tools in measuring profitability of soybeans and corn. The current ratio of U.S. soybean to corn prices has recently risen, sending a signal to farmers that the relative profitability of soybeans has increased over corn. Soybeans and corn are crops that compete for acreage in production and are complements in feed use. Their futures prices—the price of a contract to deliver a bushel of soybeans or corn at a certain time in the future—are used to calculate a ratio through dividing the soybean price by the corn price. Higher price ratios indicate that soybeans are relatively more profitable than corn. This ratio, which averaged 2.51 over the past 20 years, can tell farmers whether planting, harvesting, and storing one or the other crop might be advantageous. The ratio can also be used by livestock producers to indicate the price direction for feed ingredients. When the USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service's June 2020 Acreage report indicated that less corn acreage had been planted than expected in early spring, futures prices for corn in marketing year 2020/21 increased by 8 percent. Soybean futures prices increased at the same time. Since late June, expectations of higher corn yields eroded the futures price for corn by 2.4 percent, while the price for soybeans increased by 1.1 percent. This differential in prices led to an increase in the soybean-to-corn price ratio from 2.64 to 2.71, a 2.5 percent increase from late June. This chart and associated data are drawn from the Economic Research Service’s Season-Average Price Forecasts data product.

Record global feed grains production projected in 2020/21 amid pandemic’s uncertainty

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted both demand and supply chains, including the animal feed sector for a variety of commodities. U.S. corn-based ethanol production has also faced an unprecedented drop in demand as social distancing limited gasoline consumption. Against this backdrop, the global production of feed grains, which includes corn, sorghum, barley, and oats, is projected to reach a new record of 1.48 billion tons in marketing year 2020/21, up more than 5 percent from the previous year. The expected record-high U.S. corn crop provides about 80 percent of the growth in 2020/21 world feed grain production, but feed grain production outside the United States is also expected to increase to a record high. Although current low global corn prices might deter producers from expanding corn area planted, the depreciating currencies of many countries lift domestic prices and thereby expected profits, while policies and favorable weather within many countries also support production increases through area expansion. With the largest share of the increase in production coming from the United States, additional growth is projected in Ukraine, Brazil, and Mexico. Low corn prices are expected to continue into 2020/21, encouraging higher world-wide use for feed, ethanol, and trade after a decline in the current year. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service Feed Outlook, published in May 2020.

Ethanol prices fall as demand contracts

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), first established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, requires specified volumes of renewable fuels be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand the nation’s renewable fuels sector. Corn-based ethanol is the primary fuel used to meet the standard. During the last full corn marketing year (2018/19), ethanol accounted for approximately 10 percent of the gasoline consumed in the United States. Over the same period, approximately 5.4 billion bushels of corn, or about 38 percent of total use, were consumed for ethanol. Recently, consumption of gasoline has plummeted due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, leading to significant declines in both ethanol demand and prices. Although the RFS has ensured that the smaller volumes of gasoline being consumed contain approximately 10 percent ethanol, usage of crude oil at U.S. refineries (U.S. refiner net input of crude oil) fell about 5 percent during March, and consequently, ethanol blending (U.S. refiner and blender net input of fuel ethanol) dropped by approximately 318,000 barrels per day—down 35 percent—over the same period. Ethanol and corn prices have fallen concurrently: at Eastern Corn Belt (ECB) ethanol plants in Illinois, the weekly average price received for gasoline fell about $0.33/gallon (down 26 percent), while the price paid for corn fell about $0.61/bushel (down 15 percent) during March. This chart is drawn from the Economic Research Service’s U.S. Bioenergy Statistics topic page and Feed Outlook for April 2020.

United States losing dominance in the South Korean corn import market

Friday, February 21, 2020

Since 2010, the United States has been losing its dominant position as a corn import supplier to South Korea. Although Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, before 2011 South Korea was a large and stable purchaser. However, the U.S. share in South Korea’s corn imports has dropped from 84 percent during the years of 2007-2011 to 46 percent during 2015-2019. In 2012, drought in the United States contributed to the loss in its corn export share vis-à-vis South Korea (and the entire world market) in that year. Yet, the main reason for the decline in U.S. corn export share with South Korea since 2012 has been that the amount of corn supplied by export competitors—in particular, Brazil and Argentina—has risen as large crops in those countries increased their price competitiveness (with some annual fluctuation). South Korea is a very price-sensitive grain importer, and Brazil and Argentina have been supplying corn at attractively low prices. The U.S. loss of corn import share in South Korea is part of a general trend of declining U.S. corn export share in the world, despite higher global corn trade and slightly growing U.S. corn production. This chart was previously published in the ERS Feed Outlook report released in January 2020.

ICYMI... The U.S. is not capturing the growth in global grain trade

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The United States maintained its status as the world’s grain superpower for most of the post-World War II period by being the leading corn and wheat producer and exporter. Before the beginning of this century, the United States annually exported about a third of globally traded wheat and around 70 percent of corn. The emergence of new low-cost producers and exporters in the global wheat and corn markets reduced the U.S. share of grain exports and transformed global grain trade. Competition from Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina has weighed down U.S wheat exports share, while Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine are driving down the U.S. corn export share. In October 2018, world demand for wheat had been growing at a steady pace, driven mainly by population growth in low-income countries and a switch from rice to wheat consumption in countries that are traditionally heavy rice consumers. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.” This Chart of Note was originally published October 11, 2018.

U.S. exports to Mexico of corn and corn-based products have increased since the end of NAFTA’s transition to free trade

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into force in 1994, significantly affected the U.S.-Mexico corn trade. From 1994 to 2007, the agreement permitted Mexico to regulate U.S. access to its corn market via a tariff-rate quota (TRQ). While these TRQs aimed to assist Mexico’s domestic producers as they adjusted to international markets, they also constrained the country’s ability to satisfy its growing demand for corn through the importation of yellow corn. Consequently, the Mexican Government opted to pursue a more liberal trade policy toward corn than that which NAFTA outlined, particularly during the later years of the transition to free trade. As a result, U.S. corn entered Mexico relatively freely during this period. Beginning in 2008, NAFTA lifted all formal restrictions, allowing U.S. corn to enter Mexico free of all tariffs and quotas. Since then, the annual value of U.S. exports to Mexico of corn and corn-based products has increased by about $1.8 billion in nominal terms since 2007. During the period 2016-18, the United States sold an annual average of 15.1 million metric tons of corn to Mexico, valued at about $2.8 billion, with additional corn-related products adding around another $1 billion. This chart appears in the ERS report, “The Growing Corn Economies of Mexico and the United States,” released in July 2019.

Corn prices rise sharply amidst crop progress and planting uncertainties

Friday, June 28, 2019

The corn “spot price” rose sharply in May as successive USDA crop progress reports showed corn plantings falling behind multi-year averages. Spot prices are those paid for immediate delivery, while futures prices are exchange-traded agreements to sell a commodity at a future price. Although corn spot and futures prices normally reach seasonal highs in the spring because of uncertainties about the crop size, the price increase in spring 2019 was far larger than in recent years. Corn prices in early June were nearly a dollar above prices in early May, an increase of over 20 percent. Prices have not been this high since June 2016. Whereas, normally, nearly all of a year’s corn acres are planted by the first week of June, only about 67 percent of expected 2019 corn acres were planted by the first week of June 2019. The high market prices reflect uncertainties about whether some of the remaining acres will be planted late, planted to a different crop, or not planted at all. Ongoing trade negotiations and the new USDA Market Facilitation Program—created to assist farmers affected by recent trade disputes—likely added to the uncertainty about how farmers would respond. This chart is based on data in the ERS Feed Outlook released in June 2019.

Ukraine and Argentina’s harvested corn area grows but remains well behind leading global corn producers

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

In absolute terms, average corn area harvested in the United States is about double that in Brazil, 6 times that in Argentina, and 7.5 times that in Ukraine. However, in terms of the rate of growth for average corn area harvested, Argentina and Ukraine have increased at a much faster rate over the past decade. Compared with average area harvested between 2008 and 2010, Ukraine has increased area by 89 percent while Argentina has increased its area by 85 percent. In contrast, Brazil’s corn area has grown by 28 percent and the United States has grown by 4 percent. While it is to be expected that a country harvesting more corn in absolute terms will have a lower harvested growth rate, Argentina and Ukraine’s growth rates show that the gap between leading corn producers (such as the United States and Brazil) and lesser corn producers (such as Argentina and Ukraine) is shrinking—although the gap remains large. A key result of this shrinking gap in absolute corn area planted is that Argentina and Ukraine have increased their share of global corn exports. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in May 2019.

Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine are capturing the growth in global corn trade

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The United States is the world’s largest exporter of corn, and its exports have exceeded other countries in all years on record except for 2012, a year of severe drought conditions in the Midwest. In 2018, U.S. exports were nearly three times that of any of the closest U.S. competitors: Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine. Although the United States is likely to remain the leading corn exporter for years to come, little of the global growth in corn trade since 2010 can be attributed to the United States, compared to the gains of its closest competitors. Collectively, Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine have nearly tripled their exports, growing from 30 million tons in 2010 to over 86 million in 2018. In contrast, U.S. exports grew from 47 million tons in 2010 to 62 million in 2018, an increase of 34 percent. From 2010 to 2018, global corn trade increased from 92 million tons to 167 million, an increase of 75 million tons. Of that 75 million, 80 percent of the gains can be attributed to Argentina, Brazil, and Ukraine while the remaining 20 percent came from the United States. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in February 2019.

The United States is not capturing the growth in global grain trade

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The United States maintained its status as the world’s grain superpower for most of the post-World War II period by being the leading corn and wheat producer and exporter. Before the beginning of this century, the United States annually exported about a third of globally traded wheat and around 70 percent of corn. The emergence of new low-cost producers and exporters in the global wheat and corn markets reduced the U.S. share of grain exports and transformed global grain trade. Competition from Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina has weighed down U.S wheat exports share, while Brazil, Argentina, and Ukraine are driving down the U.S. corn export share. World demand for wheat has been growing at a steady pace, driven mainly by population growth in low-income countries and a switch from rice to wheat consumption in countries that are traditionally heavy rice consumers. This chart appears in the October 2018 Amber Waves article, “Major Changes in Export Flows Over the Last Decade Show the U.S. Is Losing Market Share in Global Grain Trade.”

Transportation costs help explain differences in the price of corn in Central Illinois and the Louisiana Gulf Coast

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The United States produces large amounts of corn for domestic uses such as animal feed, food use, and ethanol production, but 15 percent of production is exported. USDA data provide wholesale price information for corn (yellow #2 class) sold at different locations in the United States. Two notable points are Central Illinois and the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Corn sold in Central Illinois is often perceived to be destined for domestic markets, while Louisiana Gulf Coast prices are often a reflection of prices for export markets due to the Gulf’s role as a key shipping hub. Since there are no observable differences in yellow #2 corn sold in Illinois and yellow #2 corn sold in Louisiana, it is natural that the difference in prices would reflect the added transportation costs necessary to move corn from major corn-producing states in the Midwest to a Gulf state like Louisiana. An analysis of the difference in price between these two markets shows that the price differential over time closely tracks the average additional costs of rail or barge transportation to the Louisiana Gulf Coast. This chart is drawn from the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in September 2018.

U.S. corn yield projections for 2018/19 suggest record yields on the way

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The United States is on track for another record-setting year of corn yields. USDA’s first survey-based yield forecast of the 2018/19 corn crop reported a yield gain of 4.4 bushels per acre to a record 178.4 bushels. This eclipses the record set during the 2017/18 marketing year (September-August). Over the long term, corn yields trended upward with limited interruption until 2010/11 when a severe drought impacted much of the Southern and Central United States. The drought continued through 2012/13 when yields reached their lowest point since 1995/96 at 123.1 bushels per acre. Since then, yields per acre have recovered significantly and are now on track for three consecutive record years. While per acre yields have reached new heights, the number of acres of corn harvested has declined slightly over the same period. As a result, total U.S. corn production in 2018/19 is projected to be just the third highest on record. This chart appears in the latest ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in August 2018.

Monthly corn exports surge in 2017/18, reaching record levels in April

Thursday, July 5, 2018

U.S. corn exports reached an all-time high in April at 7.7 million metric tons. Year-to-date corn shipments through May are estimated at 29 million metric tons, and USDA projections for exports in the 2017/18 crop marketing year (September-August) were raised to 58.4 million metric tons. The previous monthly record for exports was set in November 1989, nearly 30 years ago. Projections for May exports, based on export inspections, are higher than usual at this time of year, suggesting continued strength in the U.S. corn export market. This is due, in part, to continued drought in Argentina, a major corn supplier, reducing export prospects there. Additionally, Brazil is expected to have a poor crop, reflecting dry weather and less area planted for the second cropping season. As a result, importing countries have fewer options for sourcing corn, increasing U.S. competitiveness. A version of this chart appears in ERS’s Feed Outlook: June 2018 newsletter.

Brazil is a key trade partner for U.S. ethanol markets

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Brazil, the world’s second largest ethanol producer after the United States, plays a large role in U.S. ethanol markets. Not only is Brazil one of the nation’s customers, it is also a competitor and a supplier. Brazilian ethanol is derived from sugar, which is desirable because it is categorized as an advanced biofuel under the renewable fuel standard. Through July of this year, the United States exported 770 million gallons of ethanol, with 40 percent of it going to Brazil. Of the 24 million gallons of ethanol imported into the United States, nearly all originated in Brazil. During this period, the Brazilian government took measures to lower fuel prices, causing sugar mills to switch from producing ethanol to sugar, because of higher returns. The resulting ethanol shortage has been filled by expanding imports from the United States. In response, the Brazilian government announced the imposition of a 20-percent duty on U.S. ethanol imports above the tariff rate quota of 160 million gallons (less than 4 months of shipments at current export levels). This will sharply reduce the competitiveness of U.S. corn-starch ethanol in Brazil and significantly reduce U.S. exports. Brazil is also implementing a new energy policy, called RenovaBio, which will increase ethanol production and consumption as part of greenhouse gas reduction commitments made under the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. This chart is drawn from the ERS Feed Outlook newsletter, released in September 2017.

Corn area growth rates are high in the former Soviet Union region

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Corn planted area changes are uneven among the regions in the world, and the fastest to expand its corn area is by far the Former Soviet Union (FSU) region. The majority of the growth comes from Ukraine and Russia, countries that produced little corn in the past. Importantly, these countries have also become significant, albeit smaller, corn exporters, with combined exports increasing twelvefold over the last decade. Policy changes in the early 90s required farms to be self-financing and gave farmers decision-making freedom that allowed them to switch to more profitable crops like corn, sunflower seed, and soybeans, at the expense of rye, barley, oats, and pastures. Ukraine and Russia became more integrated into the world agricultural economy, such that trade, foreign agricultural investment, and technology transfer all expanded. All these developments have helped to drive the expansion of corn area and yields. As corn area and yields have grown, the FSU region has increased its share of global corn production from 1 percent in 1997-01 up to 5 percent in the 2017 forecast. Though their corn output is still small compared to the largest world producers (North America is expected to produce 38 percent of global corn in 2017), Ukraine has become a major corn exporter, behind the United States, Brazil, and Argentina. This chart appears in the ERS Feed Outlook Newsletter, released in May 2017.

ACRE payments for corn are concentrated in the Midwest

Monday, October 10, 2016

USDA's Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE) is an alternative to price-based commodity programs. Begun in 2009, the program uses a combination of State- and farm-level revenue guarantees that are determined from recent historic prices and yields. The ACRE program makes payments to producers when both State average revenue and farm revenue for a crop fall below recent historic levels. The map shows expected ACRE payments, based on simulated crop revenue variability, per acre for representative farms (one per crop per county) relative to national average ACRE payments. For corn, ACRE payments would be high in Midwest areas with high average yields, even though these areas have low yield and revenue variability and strong negative price-yield correlations. ACRE payments also tend to be high along the Southeast and Middle Atlantic coast where average yields are low and yield and revenue variability are high. This map originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Amber Waves.

U.S. corn production and use expected to reach a new record in 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016

U.S. corn area in 2016/17 is estimated at 94.1 million acres, of which 86.6 million is expected to be harvested for grain, up 5.9 million from last year. With a national average yield forecast of 168 bushels, corn production this year would reach 14.5 billion bushels, 939 million bushels above last year’s harvest and 324 million more than was harvested from the record-large 2014/15 crop. The larger supply is expected to have a dampening effect on prices, making U.S. corn more competitive in the global market and boosting exports to 2.1 billion bushels in 2016/17, up from 1.9 million from the 2015/16 crop and the highest since 2007/08 when they reached 2.4 billion. Use for ethanol as well as other food, seed and industrial uses is expected to increase only modestly (less than 1 percent) to 6.7 million bushels, reflecting the maturity of those markets. Feed and residual use (a category that mainly includes livestock feed as well as other uses unaccounted for) is expected to consume 5.5 billion bushels, up 300 million from the 2015/16 crop. With projected supply expected to exceed total use of the 2016/17 crop, ending stocks are forecast to grow to 2.1 billion bushels, up from the 1.7 billion bushels expected to be on hand at the end of the 2015/16 crop year. This chart is from the ERS report Feed Outlook, July 2016.

August to January is becoming the most active period for Brazil's corn exports

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Corn is Brazil’s second largest crop (after soybeans), accounting for 20 percent of planted area, and Brazil is the world’s second largest corn exporter, behind the United States. Due to a favorable climate and long growing season, double-cropping is possible in much of the country, and the majority of corn in Brazil is harvested as a second crop planted after soybeans. Brazil tends to use most of its first-crop corn (harvested primarily during February-April) domestically because it is grown near the poultry and pork enterprises in the South, and the transportation system is focused on moving soybeans into global markets. But second-crop corn is harvested during June-August just as Brazil’s peak soybean export period ends, freeing up port capacity and transportation resources to move corn into export markets. Second-crop corn production in Brazil has expanded rapidly over the past 5 years, and over the same period the seasonal pattern of Brazil’s corn exports has shifted such that a much larger portion now enters export markets from August to January, months when harvesting begins and supplies peak in the United States. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Corn Industry and the Effect on the Seasonal Pattern of U.S. Corn Exports, released June 15, 2016.

Sugarcane production in Brazil has expanded, and about half is used for ethanol

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Government of Brazil has supported the production of ethanol as an automotive fuel for many years, beginning in 1975 with the Proálcool program, to encourage production of ethanol from sugarcane and including many programs that remain in effect today—including mandatory ethanol-blending requirements in gasoline and tax exemptions for ethanol-powered cars. Sugarcane is nearly the exclusive ethanol feedstock in Brazil, and Brazil is the world’s largest sugarcane producer, accounting for 39 percent of world production. Until the mid-1990s, the share of sugar production turned into ethanol was set by government policy, but since then market forces have determined the share that is converted to ethanol. In particular, the relationship among the prices of sugar, gasoline, and ethanol, as well as storage capacity at sugar mills, all play a role. Production of both sugar and ethanol in Brazil has expanded rapidly since the mid-1990s. Sugarcane production reached 640 million tons in 2014, up 188 percent since 1991, while over the same time, the share used for ethanol production declined from 72 percent in 1991 to a low of just over 49 percent in 2003 and a 2014 level of 55 percent. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Agricultural Land Use and Trade: Effects of Changes in Oil Prices and Ethanol Demand, released June 29, 2016.

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