ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.

Get the latest charts via email, or on our mobile app for Download the Charts of Note app on Google Play and Download the Charts of Note app on the App Store


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.

The cost of producing corn and soybeans varies across the three leading exporters

Friday, June 24, 2016

The cost of producing agricultural commodities varies across countries and regions due to many factors, including the quality of resources, climatic conditions, and the cost and availability of necessary inputs. Differences in cost of production help to determine a country’s export competitiveness in global markets, with low-cost producers usually capturing a larger share of global exports. Corn and soybeans are among the most important agricultural commodities traded in global markets, and the United States, Brazil and Argentina are the leading exporters, accounting for a combined 88 percent of world soybean exports and 73 percent of world corn exports between 2008 and 2012. Based on data for 2010 and 5-year average yields, the cost of producing soybeans in Argentina average $8.81 per bushel, compared to $7.47 in Brazil and just over $8.00 in the United States. For corn, Brazil had the highest cost of production at $4.74 per bushel, compared to $3.93 for Argentina and $3.80 in the United States. This chart is from the ERS report, Corn and Soybean Production Costs and Export Competitiveness in Argentina, Brazil and the United States, released on June 22, 2016.

Corn production in Brazil is expanding

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Since 2000/01, corn production in Brazil has doubled, reaching a record 85 million metric tons in 2014/15, equivalent to 8.4 percent of global corn production. Corn is now 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. Technological advances in soil management and improvements in hybrid corn varieties have supported this expansion. The second-crop corn harvest largely serves the export market, putting it in direct competition with the timing of the U.S. corn harvest. This chart is from the ERS report, Brazil’s Corn Industry and the Effect on the Seasonal Pattern of U.S. Corn Exports, released on June 15, 2016.

Nearly all U.S. ethanol is produced and sold in domestic markets

Thursday, May 5, 2016

U.S. production of ethanol hit a record 14.8 billion gallons in 2015, and when combined with the carry-over stocks from the previous year and 2015 imports, the total ethanol supply reached an all-time high of 15.7 billion gallons. Nearly all ethanol blended into the U.S. gasoline supply is produced domestically, and, over the past five years, about 94 percent of domestic production was used in the United States. Ethanol imports peaked in 2006 at 731 million gallons (equal to 12 percent of the U.S. supply), but each year since 2010 exports have exceeded imports, making the United States a net exporter of ethanol. The domestic market for ethanol is at full capacity due to the technical and regulatory constraints that limit most of the U.S. gasoline supply to a 10 percent maximum ethanol blend, so the export market is now the primary opportunity for growth. Ethanol exports peaked in 2011 at nearly 1.2 billion gallons, but have remained below 850 million gallons for the past four years. This chart is based on the ERS U.S. Bioenergy Statistics data product.

U.S. corn and soybean farmers use a wide variety of glyphosate resistance management practices

Monday, May 2, 2016

For weed control, U.S. corn and soybean farmers rely on chemical herbicides which were applied to more than 95 percent of U.S. corn acres in 2010 and soybean acres in 2012. Over the course of the last two decades, U.S. corn and soybean farmers have increased their use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in herbicide products such as Roundup) and decreased their use of herbicide products containing other active ingredients. This shift contributed to the development of over 14 glyphosate-resistant weed species in U.S. crop production areas. Glyphosate resistance management practices (RMPs) include herbicide rotation, tillage, scouting for weeds, and other forms of weed control. In some cases, ERS found that usage rates for RMPs increased from 1996 to 2012. In other cases, RMP use dropped from 1996 to 2005/06 but increased as information about glyphosate-resistant weeds spread. For example, herbicides other than glyphosate were applied on 93 percent of planted soybean acres in 1996, 29 percent in 2006, and then 56 percent in 2012. This chart is found in the April 2016 Amber Waves finding, “U.S. Corn and Soybean Farmers Apply a Wide Variety of Glyphosate Resistance Management Practices.”

Verified non-genetically engineered products see steady increase since 2010

Monday, April 4, 2016

Genetically engineered (GE) crops are now widely used to produce breakfast cereals, corn chips, soy protein bars, and other processed foods and food ingredients, and a market for foods produced without crops grown from GE seed has emerged. The Non-GMO Project is a private group that provides verification services for products made according to best practices for genetically modified organism (GMO) avoidance. In 2014, the Non-GMO Project Verified label appeared on nearly 12,500 products with unique universal product codes (UPC), up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010. Many of the food products verified under this protocol, and bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified butterfly logo, are not at risk of GE contamination: that is, they do not contain corn, soybeans, or other crops for which GE varieties are available. Also, over half of the products verified under this protocol are certified organic under USDA’s organic regulations, which already prohibit the use of genetic engineering in organic production and processing. Non-GMO Project Verified labeling currently accounts for most of the conventionally grown U.S. products that are non-GE verified. This chart appears in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.

After a decade of rapid growth, corn use for ethanol is projected to decline

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ethanol production in the United States is based almost entirely on corn as a feedstock. Corn‑based ethanol production is projected to fall over the next 10 years. This reflects declining overall gasoline consumption in the United States (which is mostly a 10‑percent ethanol blend, E10), infrastructural and other constraints on growth for E15 (15‑percent ethanol blend), and the small size of the market for E85 (85‑percent ethanol blend), with less-than-offsetting increases in U.S. ethanol exports. Even with the U.S. ethanol production decline, demand for corn to produce ethanol continues to be strong. While the share of U.S. corn expected to go to U.S. ethanol production falls, it accounts for over a third of total U.S. corn use throughout the projection period. This chart is based on information in USDA Agricultural Projections to 2025.

Certified organic corn was planted later than GE corn in 2010 to avoid cross-pollination

Friday, February 26, 2016

U.S. farmers used genetically engineered (GE) seed varieties that contain traits to tolerate herbicides used for weed control and/or to resist other pests on over 90 percent of corn acreage in 2015. To receive the price premiums associated with organic and other non-GE crops, these producers must minimize the unintended presence of GE materials in their crops. Organic and other non-GE farmers use various practices—including the use of buffer strips to minimize pesticide/pollen drift and/or delaying crop planting until after any nearby GE crops are planted—to prevent their crops from commingling with GE crops. While some field crops are mostly self-pollinating, most corn pollination results from pollen dispersal by wind and gravity. In USDA’s most recent (2010) corn survey of conventional and organic producers in top corn producing States, delayed planting was reported on two-thirds of planted organic corn acreage. While this strategy helps protect against commingling of GE and non-GE crop pollen, growers may realize lower yields from planting at a suboptimal time. This chart is found in the ERS report, Economic Issues in the Coexistence of Organic, Genetically Engineered (GE), and Non-GE Crops, February 2016.