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Recent evidence suggests that farmers continue to adopt no-till on more cropland

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Farmers have choices for how they prepare the soil; reduce weed growth; incorporate fertilizer, manure and organic matter into the soil; and seed their crops, including the number of tillage operations and tillage depth. Tillage practices affect soil carbon, water pollution, and farmers’ energy and pesticide use. No-till is generally the least intensive form of tillage. Approximately 35 percent of U.S. cropland (88 million acres) planted to eight major crops had no-till operations in 2009, according to ERS researchers who estimated tillage trends based on 2000-07 data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). Furthermore, the use of no-till increased over time for corn, cotton, soybeans, rice and wheat, the crops for which the ARMS data were sufficient to calculate a trend. While a more recent estimate of nationwide use of no-till by all major crop producers is not available, based on the results of recent surveys of wheat producers in 2009 and corn producers in 2010, it seems likely that no-till’s use continues to spread, albeit at a much reduced pace among corn producers. This chart is found on the ERS topic page, Soil Tillage and Crop Rotation, and in the ERS report, Agriculture’s Supply and Demand for Energy and Energy Products, EIB-112, May 2013.

China has emerged as the world's dominant importer of soybeans, bolstering demand for U.S. exports

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rising incomes in China have led to a major shift in Chinese diets to include more livestock products. This dietary change, along with policy measures to spur growth in the industrialized feed industry and modern livestock production, has supported remarkable growth of soybean imports used to feed Chinese livestock while Chinese soybean production has been declining in favor of corn and rice production. The elimination of raw soybean import quotas and a surge in foreign investment in the Chinese soybean processing sector following China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 facilitated soybean imports from the United States and other world suppliers. The bulk of soybeans produced in China are for human consumption, while soybeans from the United States and South America, China’s two primary import sources, are crushed for feed and commercial oil uses. China has more than a 60-percent share of global soybean imports. This chart is found in the June Amber Waves article, “Crop Outlook Reflects Near-Term Prices and Longer Term Market Trends.”

Even large commodity price increases result in modest food price inflation

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Farm-level commodity prices are far more volatile than food prices, as costs for marketing inputs such as packaging, processing, and transportation mitigate commodity price volatility on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. Corn, wheat, and soybeans are the three most important field crops to the U.S. food supply. The average farm price of these crops, weighted by total production, regularly rises or falls by over 10 percent from year to year. On average, food prices have become less volatile in recent decades, as food price inflation averaged 8 percent per year in the 1970s, but only 2.8 percent per year since 1990. Commodity prices, alternatively, have grown somewhat more volatile over time. However, large changes in major commodity prices have relatively small impacts on food prices. In 2007-08, the average production-weighted price of these crops increased by 50 percent, while food prices rose 5.5 percent. Similarly, in 2010-11, the crop prices rose 31 percent and food prices increased 3.7 percent. This chart appears in the Food Price Outlook topic page on the ERS website, updated April 17, 2013.

Rising Malaysian palm oil stocks pressure prices to 4-year low

Monday, April 8, 2013

Malaysian palm oil production for 2012/13 is forecast at a record 19 million tons and, despite record exports during October 2012-February 2013, stocks totaled 2.4 million tons in February—an all-time high for the month. With Indonesia's palm oil stocks reported to be even larger, the current oversupply has forced crude palm oil prices down by 23 percent from a year ago to a 4-year low. Malaysian palm oil exports in 2012/13 are forecast at 17.2 million tons, compared with 16.6 million last year, as palm oil exports from Malaysia and Indonesia counter stagnant global production of other vegetable oils. India—the world's largest market for vegetable oil—saw its 2012/13 palm oil imports forecast rise to 8 million tons, up from 7.5 million tons the previous year. This chart can be found in the Oil Crops Chart Gallery, with accompanying analysis in the Oil Crops Outlook: March 2013.

Retail prices of beef, fats and oils, and poultry up the most in 2012

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Overall food-at-home prices rose 2.6 percent in 2012, but this masked a great deal of variation across food categories. For the second consecutive year, beef and fats and oils showed the biggest percentage increases. Beef prices increased due to record low cattle inventories, while surging soybean prices pushed up prices for fats and oils. Poultry prices also increased substantially in 2012, due to a shift in demand away from high-priced beef and pork coupled with higher costs for broiler feed resulting from the Midwest drought. Pork prices, which saw major inflation in 2011, were flat in 2012 as wholesale prices fell due to rising hog inventories and falling exports. Vegetable prices fell 5.1 percent in 2012 as the unusually warm weather led to bumper crops for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables, in sharp contrast to the poor harvests and high vegetable prices of 2011. More information on food price changes and forecasts can be found in the Food Price Outlook data product, updated January 24, 2013.

Growing palm oil supplies temper global vegetable oil prices

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The expansion of palm oil supplies has been a key factor in meeting the rising global demand for vegetable oils, particularly by developing countries like China and India. World prices for other vegetable oils have declined in 2012 along with palm oil, but not as fast. Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s dominant palm oil producers and exporters, with Indonesia emerging as the largest producer since about 2005, and as the largest exporter in 2011. Growth in Indonesian supplies has been fueled by the expansion of both oil palm growing area and yields. In Malaysia, production growth is constrained by an inability to further expand oil palm growing area and shortages of labor to harvest the crop. Surpluses of palm oil in both Indonesia and Malaysia have placed downward pressure on palm oil prices and generally making it the lowest cost vegetable oil on the world market. This chart appears in ERS’s November 2012 Oil Crops Outlook report.

Introduction of direct payments for oilseeds did not impact production decisions

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Direct payments are based on historic acreage and yields of program crops like corn and wheat and are often considered "decoupled" because they do not depend on a farmer's current production decisions. Nonetheless, because direct payments are linked to past production of program crops and because productive areas tend to remain productive over time, areas that currently have higher average yields and more acreage of program crops tend to receive more payments than areas with lower yields and fewer acres. This positive association between direct payments and production of program crops raises doubts about whether direct payments really are decoupled from current production decisions. The 2002 Farm Act authorized direct payments for the first time for oilseed crops, such as soybeans, triggering a sudden shift in direct payments toward areas with higher average production of oilseeds. By studying oilseed producers' response to the shift in payments between 2002 and 2007, ERS researchers found that direct payments had little effect on production decisions This chart appears in "Expansion in Direct Payments Did Not Lead to More Crop Production" in the September 2012 issue of ERS's Amber Waves magazine.

Record high prices to stimulate more soybean area in Brazil

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Despite a large decline in the U.S. crop, global soybean production in 2012/13 is expected to increase to 260.5 million metric tons from 236 million in 2011/12 based on large gains in South America. By July, soybean prices in Brazil had surged nearly 50 percent compared to a year earlier. Brazilian producers are expected to respond to these incentives with a 10-percent increase in soybean area for 2012/13 to 27.5 million hectares. A larger cropland base is projected to raise Brazil's soybean production to 81 million tons—up 3 million from July's forecast. If realized, Brazil's 2012/13 soybean crop would be the first ever to surpass the U.S. harvest. A Brazilian soybean crop of this magnitude could push the country's 2012/13 exports to a world-leading 37.6 million tons. This chart is found in the August 2012 Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-12h.

Condition of U.S. soybeans worsens as drought continues

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A major part of the Midwest—extending from Kansas to Ohio—has been unusually dry during a formative period for crop development. The worst dryness stretches out from the Ohio River Valley, where June precipitation was less than half of average. Overall, only 40 percent of U.S. soybeans were rated in good-to-excellent condition as of July 8th. This is a sharp deterioration from 60 percent a month earlier and is the lowest percentage for this date since 1988. Given these circumstances, USDA lowered its expected 2012 soybean yield to 40.5 bushels per acre from 43.9 bushels last month. Although the harvested acreage estimate for soybeans was raised to 75.3 million acres, a lower expected yield reduces the 2012 production forecast this month by 155 million bushels to 3.05 billion. This chart is found in the July 2012 Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-12g.

Macroeconomic factors put some pressure on soybean prices

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gloomier economic prospects for Europe, China, and India are reverberating throughout the world. While growth of the U.S. economy is by no means robust, a loss of confidence in these countries precipitated a flight of capital into U.S. Treasury securities. As major foreign currencies have lost value against the U.S. dollar, the cost of U.S. commodities to foreign buyers has increased, putting downward pressure on demand for (and prices of) nearly all U.S. commodities (excluding gold). In May, market prices for soybeans and soybean products tumbled due to these macroeconomic factors. However, price declines for soybeans and soybean meal may be short-lived because their market fundamentals (related to yields, planted acres, harvested acres, weather conditions, etc.) have not really changed. This chart is found in the Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-12f, June 2012.

Changes in intended sowing in top States mostly signal more corn, fewer soybeans

Monday, May 21, 2012

USDA's Prospective Plantings report in March indicated that U.S. farmers intend to reduce the acreage sown to soybeans this year by 1.4 percent to 73.9 million acres. With more attractive expected returns from corn production, corn acreage is expected to expand 4 percent to a 75-year high as soybean acreage shifts to corn in 2012. The Corn Belt region is where the main shift in cropland between corn and soybeans is anticipated. The sole region where an expansion in soybean acreage might occur this year is the Northern Plains, where millions of acres were unsown last year due to excessively wet soil conditions. This chart is found in the April 2012 Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-12d.

China dominates global import demand for soybeans

Thursday, April 5, 2012

China has a strong presence in trade for many commodities. China's soybean imports have risen sharply over the past 10-15 years, and now account for more than half of world trade. Over the next decade, China's soybean imports are projected to rise 59 percent to 90 million tons. This increase accounts for more than 80 percent of the projected growth in global soybean imports. China's large oilseed crushing capacity underlies these strong gains in soybean imports. The United States, Brazil and Argentina are the leading exporters of soybeans. In fiscal year 2011, 59 percent of U.S. soybean exports went to China. This chart is found in the ERS report, USDA Agricultural Projections to 2021, OCE-121, February 2012.

Commodity prices vary more than U.S. cropland acreage

Monday, March 12, 2012

Since 1980, the variation in cropland used for crops has been relatively small, despite significant variation in real (adjusted for inflation) commodity prices. Between 1980 and 2002, the real prices of major commodities (e.g., corn, soybeans, wheat) declined by over 60 percent, while total cropland used for crops dropped by about 6 percent. This relatively small reduction in cropland use may reflect changes in farm legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, which marked a shift toward greater market orientation with the addition of income-supporting (rather than price-supporting) commodity loan programs in 1985 that help protect against revenue losses and the introduction of planting flexibility on acres qualifying for commodity program payments in 1990. Productivity increases also mitigated some of the effect of real price declines on the real returns to crop production. Since 2002, prices of major commodities dropped and then spiked during 2006-08. While cropland used for crops changed little in total during this period, farmers changed the mix of crops by increasing land in corn and wheat and reducing the amount of land planted to hay and other crops. This chart is found in the March 2012 issue of Amber Waves magazine.

Farms that primarily grew soybeans in 2006 were the main source of new corn acres

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Between 2000 and 2009, U.S. ethanol production increased from 1.6 billion gallons to 10.8 billion gallons, almost all of which was produced from corn. Using a recent survey of 2008 corn producers' planting decisions in 2006 and 2008, ERS researchers determined the source of the additional corn acreage needed during the most rapid expansion in ethanol production. Farms that had more than 50 percent of their planted acreage in corn in 2006 were classified as corn farms. Other farms were classified based on the dominant noncorn crop grown in 2006. Based on this classification, farms that primarily grew soybeans in 2006 were the main source of new corn acres. However, there was not a net decrease in soybean acres. Reductions in acreage of other crops, as well as an expansion in harvested acres, have been important sources for the simultaneous expansion of corn and soybean production. This chart is from the September 2011 edition of Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. soybean oil use expected to rise for biodiesel and decline slightly for food

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Domestic use of soybean oil for 2011/12 is forecast to rise to 17.75 billion pounds from 16.6 billion this year. Nearly all of next year's gain is projected for the production of biodiesel, which has been accelerating quickly over the last few months. USDA forecasts that soybean oil used for methyl esters (biodiesel) will expand to 3.6 billion pounds in 2011/12 from 2.4 billion this season. This chart is from Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-11i, released September 13, 2011.

2011 ratio of stocks-to-use for total world grains and oilseeds near record low

Friday, September 16, 2011

The ratio of global ending stocks to total use can be a reliable indicator of market prices (the lower the ratio, the tighter the market and the higher the price.) Currently, the stocks-to-use ratios for corn and soybeans are near record lows. The stocks-to-use ratios for wheat and rice suggest reasonably comfortable stock levels, but the shortage of milling-quality wheat has put strong upward pressure on wheat prices. Stock-to-use ratios for cotton, total oilseeds, total coarse grains, and sugar are also low. These low ratios suggest strong worldwide competition among crops for acreage in the 2011 planting season. This chart is found in the September 2011 Amber Waves feature, Why Another Food Commodity Price Spike?

A record soybean supply in Brazil is seen to expand exports

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

As of the August 2011 forecast, Brazil produced a record 2010/11 soybean crop of 75.5 million tons (up 1 million tons from last month's estimate based on the latest harvest results). The upward adjustment in Brazil's historical yield trend for soybeans improves the new-crop outlook-raising the 2011/12 crop projection by 1 million tons to 73.5 million. Projected soybean area for Brazil is unchanged at 25 million hectares (up 3 percent from 2010/11) as corn will compete strongly for cropland. Corn prices in Brazil are up 60-65 percent from a year ago, compared to 20-25 percent for soybeans. The rise in soybean prices is being restrained by large domestic stocks remaining from the 2010/11 harvest. This chart is found in Oil Crops Outlook, OCS-11h, August 12, 2011.

Both corn and soybean acreage increased in response to the expansion in ethanol production

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Between 2000 and 2009, U.S. ethanol production increased from 1.6 billion gallons to 10.8 billion gallons, almost all of which was produced from corn. While some of the corn came from increased yields and some was diverted from other uses, much of the corn needed to produce ethanol came from expanding planted acreage. Between 2000 and 2009, U.S. corn production increased from 9.9 billion bushels grown on 72.4 million acres to 13.1 billion bushels grown on 79.5 million acres. National-level data show that between 2006 and 2007, a large increase in corn acreage was accompanied by a sizable decrease in soybean acreage, but this shift largely reversed between 2007 and 2008. Over the long run, there is not an obvious historical shift out of soybeans into corn. Both corn and soybean acreage increased over the past decade. This chart comes from Amber Waves magazine, the September 2011 issue.

While U.S. soybean exports have grown over the last 25 years, the share of global trade has declined

Monday, April 11, 2011

Key to this development has been the phenomenal growth of foreign soybean output and exports, particularly by Brazil and Argentina. Foreign soybean output now exceeds that of the U.S., and Brazil and Argentina currently share more than half of the soybean export market, up from less than 15 percent before 1980. With increased soybean production and rapid growth in crushing capacity, Brazil and Argentina have each surpassed the U.S. in soymeal and soyoil exports. Another factor is the recent expansion of U.S. meat exports, which stimulates domestic meal use rather than exports of soybeans or soybean meal. Brazilian and Argentine soybean and meal exports are projected to continue capturing market share from the United States in the next decade. This chart is from the Soybeans and Oil Crops briefing room, March 31, 2011.

Contracting expands for field crops

Monday, March 7, 2011

Most U.S. corn, soybean, and wheat production is sold through cash markets, where the producer receives the market price prevailing at the time of sale. However, marketing contracts, which set a market outlet and a pricing arrangement for crops before they are harvested, are becoming increasingly important as risk management tools. Marketing contracts covered 15 percent of corn production in 2001, along with 9 percent of soybean and 6 percent of wheat production. By 2008, contracts covered 26 percent of corn, 25 percent of soybean, and 23 percent of wheat production. This chart originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Amber Waves. It is based on the ERS publication, Agricultural Contracting Update: Contracts in 2008, EIB-72, February 2011.

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