Category Archives: commodities

8 Informative and Interesting Recent USDA Charts

For this post, I’ve gathered together some recent and especially noteworthy USDA charts with their accompanying descriptions. The subjects vary widely, so there should be something of interest for everyone.

1. Conservation Program Funding in the New Farm Bill

While the new CRP acreage cap cuts maximum enrollment by 25 percent, the impact on program enrollment and related environmental benefits may be relatively modest. CRP acreage has been declining since 2007, falling from 36.8 million acres to 25.6 million—30 percent—by December 2013. Environmental benefits, however, may not be diminishing as quickly as the drop in enrolled acreage might suggest. CRP has shifted rapidly from enrolling whole fields or farms (through general signup) to funding high-priority, partial-field practices, including riparian buffers, field-edge filter strips, grassed waterways, and wetland restoration (through continuous signup). On a per-acre basis, these practices are believed to provide greater environmental benefits than whole-field enrollments while taking less land out of crop production. Because partial-field practices are more expensive, however, CRP annual payments have fallen by only 10 percent since 2007. At the end of 2013, the average annual payment for partial-field practices was $103 per acre, versus only $50 per acre for whole fields.


2. Global Demand and Rising Costs to Affect Prices of Corn, Wheat and Soybeans

Although market responses to high crop prices in recent years, both in the United States and in other countries, are projected to lower U.S. crop prices over the next couple of years, in the longer term prices for corn, wheat, and soybeans are projected to remain high relative to historical prices. The continuing influence of several long-term factors—including global growth in population and per capita income, a low-valued U.S. dollar, increasing costs for crude petroleum, and rising biofuel production—underlies these price projections. Corn prices are projected to decline through 2015/16, but then begin increasing in 2016/17 as ending stocks tighten due to growth in feed use, exports, and demand for corn by ethanol producers. Soybean prices are expected to initially fall from recent highs but then rise moderately after 2015/16, reflecting strengthening demand for soybeans and soybean products. Wheat prices are projected to fall through 2016/17, in response to rising wheat stocks and falling corn prices, but strengthen in the longer term due to export growth, moderate gains in food use, and declining stocks.


3. Agriculture’s role in climate change: greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration

The greenhouse gas (GHG) profile of the agricultural and forestry sector differs substantially from the profile of other sectors. Agriculture is an emission-intensive sector; it accounted for less than 1 percent of U.S. production (in real gross value-added terms), but emitted 10.4 percent of U.S. GHGs in 2012. Energy-related CO2 emission sources—which dominate GHG emissions in most other production sectors—are dwarfed in agriculture by unique crop and livestock emissions of nitrous oxide and methane. Crop and pasture soil management are the activities that generate the most emissions, due largely to the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and other nutrients. The next largest sources are enteric fermentation (digestion in ruminant livestock) and manure management. Agriculture and forestry are unique in providing opportunities for withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere through biological sequestration in soil and biomass carbon sinks. The carbon sinks, which are largely due to land use change from agricultural to forest land (afforestation) and forest management on continuing forest, offset 13.5 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2012. ERS is currently involved in research on the economic incentives farm operators have, or could be provided with, to take steps to both mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change.


4. U.S. Wheat Export Market Share Projected to Continue to Fall

Although global and U.S. wheat exports are projected to rise over the next decade, the U.S. share of the world market is projected to continue to decline because of competition from other exporters. Global demand for wheat is expected to expand, driven primarily by income and population growth in developing country markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brazil. The number of major exporting countries has, however, expanded in recent years from the traditional wheat exporters–the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, and the European Union–to include Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. Although variable, the wheat export volume of those three Black Sea exporters together now rivals that of the United States. Low production costs and new investment in the agricultural sectors of the Black Sea region have enabled their world market share to climb, despite the region’s highly variable weather. Competition from the Black Sea region, as well as from traditional exporters, has resulted in a decline in the U.S. share of expanding world exports from an average of about 39 percent in the first half of the 1980s to an average of about 20 percent over the last 5 years.


5. Food loss in U.S. grocery stores, restaurants, and homes valued at $162 billion in 2010

In the United States, 31 percent—or 133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. The estimated value of this food loss was $161.6 billion, using 2010 retail prices. Food loss by retailers, foodservice establishments, and consumers occurs for a variety of reasons—a refrigerator malfunctions and food spoils, a store or restaurant overstocks holiday foods that do not get purchased, or consumers cook more than they need and choose to throw the extra food away. Food loss also includes cooking loss and natural shrinkage, such as when leafy greens wilt. In 2010, the top three food groups in terms of share of total value of food loss were meat, poultry, and fish ($48 billion); vegetables ($30 billion); and dairy products ($27 billion). Meat, poultry, and fish’s 30-percent share in value terms is higher than its 12-percent share when measured on a weight basis due to these foods’ higher per pound cost relative to many other foods.


6. Dynamic growth projected for world poultry trade

Poultry meat imports by major importers are projected to increase by 2.5 million tons (34 percent) between 2013 and 2023, led by rising import demand in North Africa and the Middle East (NAME), Mexico, and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Similar factors are expected to drive import growth in each region. Rising incomes and the low cost of poultry meat relative to other meats are projected to favor growth in poultry meat consumption among the low- and middle-income consumers in each region. At the same time, limited local supplies of feed grains and feed protein in all three regions are expected to continue to limit the expansion of indigenous poultry meat production. The NAME region currently accounts for 47 percent of imports by the major poultry importers, and is projected to account for nearly 80 percent of the increase in their poultry meat imports between 2014 and 2023. In contrast, little import growth is projected for Russia, where policies continue to deter imports in favor of domestic producers, and for China, where domestic production is projected to keep pace with demand.


7. World population growth is projected to continue slowing over the next decade, rising about 1.0 percent per year for the projection period compared to an annual rate of 1.2 percent in 2001-10.

• Developed countries have very low projected rates of population growth, at 0.4 percent over 2013-23. The projected annual average population growth rate for the United States of about 0.8 percent is the highest among developed countries, in part reflecting immigration.

• Population growth rates in developing economies are projected to be sharply lower than rates in 1990-2010, but remain above those in the rest of the world. As a result, the share of global population accounted for by developing countries increases to 82 percent by 2023, compared to 79 percent in 2000.

• China and India together accounted for 36 percent of the world’s population in 2013. China’s population growth rate slows from 1.0 percent per year in 1991-2000 to less than 0.4 percent in 2013-23, with its share of global population falling. The population growth rate in India is projected to decline from 1.8 percent to 1.2 percent per year over the same period, increasing its share of world population.

• Brazil’s population growth rate falls from 1.6 percent per year in 1991-2000 to 1.0 percent annually in 2013-23. The population growth rate in Indonesia is projected to decline from 1.7 percent to 0.9 percent per year over the same period. Although Sub-Saharan Africa’s population growth rate declines from 2.6 percent to 2.4 percent per year between the same periods, this region continues to have the highest population growth rate of any region in the world and its population decline is modest relative to other regions of the world.

• Countries with declining populations include Greece, Germany, most central European countries, Russia, Ukraine, and Japan.


8. Global trade: Wheat, coarse grains, and soybeans and soybean products

Global trade in soybeans and soybean products has risen rapidly since the early 1990s, and has surpassed global trade in wheat and total coarse grains (corn, barley, sorghum, rye, oats, millet, and mixed grains). Continued strong growth in global demand for vegetable oil and protein meal, particularly in China and other Asian countries, is expected to maintain soybean and soybean- products trade well above either wheat or coarse grain trade throughout the next decade.

• Globally, the total area planted to grains, oilseeds, and cotton is projected to expand an average of 0.5 percent per year. Area expands more rapidly in countries with a reserve of available land and policies that allow farmers to respond to prices. Such countries include Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, some other countries in South America, and some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, in many countries area expansion is less than half that rate, and cropped area even contracts in some countries. Over half of the projected growth in global production of grains, oilseeds, and cotton is derived from rising yields, even though growth in crop yields is projected to continue slowing.

• The market impact of slower yield growth is partially offset by slower growth in world population. Nonetheless, population growth is a significant factor driving overall growth in demand for agricultural products. Additionally, rising per capita income in most countries supplements population gains in the demand for vegetable oils, meats, horticulture, dairy products, and grains. World per capita use of vegetable oils is projected to rise 6.5 percent over the next 10 years, compared with 15 percent for meats and 7 percent for total coarse grains. In contrast, per capita wheat use does not rise, and per capita rice consumption drops 1 percent.

• Increasing demand for grains, oilseeds, and other crops provide incentives to expand the global area under cultivation and the intensity of cropping the land. The largest projected increases in the area planted to field crops are in the former Soviet Union (FSU) and Sub- Saharan Africa. Large expansions are also projected for Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina, including some uncultivated land brought into soybean and palm oil production in response to increased world demand for vegetable oils.

Map of Countries Sized by Population & a Changing Global Economy Dominated by Asia

This map was tweeted by @incrediblemaps and shows us the size of countries relative to their populations, which as we know has big implications for food security and the commodity trade markets.

On a related note, one of the news items that really got my attention last week was the WSJ sideline interview of Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard, during his speaking engagement at the Credit Suisse Asian investment conference in Hong Kong.

From the WSJ’s blog:

…he can foresee a tri-polar world in which China and India are the major economic powers, counterbalanced by a bloc of the United States, Europe and Japan, whose populations together will total about one billion people.

“We’ve said the U.S. is a superpower, an economic superpower. But these are giants, they’re bigger than a superpower,” he said. “What would that world be like, both economically and politically? I think that’s really hard to understand. How much would the Western bloc be willing to cooperate politically to be a counterbalance to China and India?”

Mr. Bullard offered few specifics of what such a world would look like, but did acknowledge that it might require some adjustment on the part of ordinary Americans like those he serves in the heartland.

This future is a challenge to imagine, but has implications for the competition for oil and energy, number one, I think, and all of the other commodities, with ever-bigger demands on the Earth’s natural resources. It has jobs implications; global communications will continue to improve and evolve; technological advancements and innovations will be coming more and more from Asia; and, global politics and alliances will change, as Bullard states. Finally, it has big implications for food and agriculture. My personal view is that there will be very surprising innovations in both of these sectors.

In another weekend article, the NYT’s travel section contained this interesting paragraph:

Ernst & Young estimates that by 2030, nearly one billion people in China could enter into the middle class and have a disposable income that allows them to travel domestically and abroad. Ten years ago their government singled out tourism as a key pillar of economic growth, and as a result, they have invested well ahead of the curve in high-speed trains, hotel complexes and airports to absorb growth within the middle class. In fact, right now they are busy building 69 airports around the country, so that in the future no person in the country will be more than a 90-minute drive from an airport.

There are a few “somethings that are gonna haftagive” when we consider these rapidly changing global dynamics.

If you have any visions of where this puts people in Bullard’s heartland, in, say the year 2035, please let us know your ideas in the comments. What does the future look like for your children under this scenario? What will their standard of living look like? What will transportation and supply chains look like in the U.S. and in Asia? Where will the job opportunities be? Will there be enough jobs? What will global cooperation look like by then?

How Much Has the Production of Global Commodity Crops Increased in 40 Years?

This chart, which shows us the increase in MMT (million metric tons) of various commodity crops between 1969 through 2009, is from the recent Iowa State AGMRC publication, “Can We Meet the World’s Growing Demand for Food?” by Don Hofstrand.

The production of soybeans has increased the most, at 431% in those forty years, followed by vegetables, sugar cane, and maize.

The VALUE of U.S. Corn, Wheat, and Soybean Agricultural Exports Has Gone Up, not the AMOUNT

Readers note that one of the reasons I started the new SASD site was because there were always many more posts that I wished to make than I ever had time to make as one person. Here’s an example of something I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time and luckily, now, someone came along and did it for me. In recent years, we’ve heard much bragging over how well our agricultural exports have done, always “up”, when in actuality, their price has gone up, not the amounts… of corn, soybeans and wheat commodities, which is never said… which is a bit of spin, if you ask me. This trade is affected by currency valuations and availability of infrastructure (for which U.S. producers are very lucky), in addition to supply and demand.

Thanks to Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee at Knoxville for this writing and great graph, below.

Price and the value of agricultural exports

Exports are a big deal for agriculture, always have been and always will be. Of course, the mix of agricultural exports has changed over time. Tobacco exports back to the mother country have been replaced with worldwide exports of grains, oilseeds, livestock products, and a host of other foods, some sent raw or in bulk, others highly processed.

Recent years have been particularly good for agricultural exports. Agricultural exports set a new record of $140.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2013. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commented, “The period 2009-2013 stands as the strongest five-year period for agricultural exports in our nation’s history.”

Last fall he encouraged Congress to pass a farm bill, partly as a means to keep up the “incredible momentum” of agriculture exports by continuing to fund trade promotions programs. The Agriculture Act of 2014 came through with funding for the Market Access Program. The 2014 Farm Bill also creates an undersecretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agriculture. Clearly, Congress and the Obama administration are fans of agricultural exports and are planning for continued growth in the value of agricultural exports

The question is: Will the value of agricultural exports during the time of the 2014 Farm Bill experience the remarkable growth that was chalked up during the tenure of the 2008 Farm Bill?

Let’s begin by asking a different question: besides the ethanol phenomenon, what is the most striking thing that happened to crop agriculture in previous 5 years? Yep, crop prices rose to levels that few thought were even remotely possible.

Next question: Were those mammoth crop price increases largely responsible for growth the value agricultural exports? In the case of grains (primarily corn and wheat) and soybeans, the answer is definitely yes.

Figure 1 shows the volume of corn, soybeans, and wheat exports to be somewhat variable but relatively flat (line with long and short dashes). On the other hand, the value of exports (solid line) has exploded since the mid-2000s as has the price per metric ton (dotted line). The price and value of exports move together with few exceptions.

Figure 1: Corn, soybeans, and wheat – Volume of exports in thousand metric tons, value of exports in billion dollars, and price per metric ton in dollars.

Corn and soybeans are the top two contributors to the total value of agricultural exports. Clearly, their export values in the years ahead will be highly influenced by their prices.

As column readers are aware, history tells us that multi-year periods of exceptionally high crop prices are usually followed by much longer periods of exceptionally low crop prices. If that is the case, Secretaries of Agriculture in future years may be explaining dramatic drops in the value of agricultural exports.

Of course, the similarity of trends in export values and prices for other categories of agricultural exports—especially the growing volume of highly processed exports—are not universally as strong as the trends in crop export value and crop price.

Still, it seems most likely that over the period of the next farm bill, the overall trend in the value of agricultural exports will point in the same direction as the overall trend in crop prices.

Too Much Corn and Too Much Deflation.


Today’s photo, above, is another from my helper, North Dakota photographer, Rick. This photo demonstrates the poor corn yield from a newly converted marginal land out of CRP into corn acres, in North Dakota, in response to high corn prices and a policy which pays for crop failure, and does not pay a competing price to keep acres in CRP. Rick’s accompanying comment for this photo was “New CRP cornfield: no weed control, no fertilizer, nothing.” (I can’t tell you how sad this story makes me, and you as a taxpayer should be outraged, dear reader.)
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If you haven’t noticed, you haven’t been paying attention. All the buzz from our quasi expert economists lately is one word: DEFLATION.

In actuality, this condition has been smouldering for more than six years, or so, but QE-ternity and QE-Krugman have stolen the stage psychologically, even trying to scare us with inflation fears from time to time. Nothing combats deflationary forces like promoting fears of inflation, as there is a large psychological component to deflation, along with the inevitable deleveraging that must take place when an economy has over-leveraged itself. There are just no easy answers when an economy gets to that point, but the ride up sure was fun, wasn’t it? Perhaps your choice is to focus on the potential for collapse and doom, and there are plenty focusing on that, judging by the number of websites and zombie-apocalypse stories which have surfaced these past few years. We might be fine, at this moment, if we had smart, ethical leadership, i.e. a working government and a true democracy right now, but we don’t. Neither do we have a healthy press that can be a watch-dog to the process. Our newspapers continue their demise. And deflation isn’t going away because we also still have big banks that are too big; the goal is still to get everyone to sign their lives away to some type of note, whether it be auto, student, house, land, cell phone, or credit card so we can live beyond our means; and, then, in the end, no one’s saved for their retirement in a new era where we are, on average, expected to live to age 86. And speaking of life-expectancy, our health costs continue to spiral out of control even as we experiment with a new governmental health system that lacks that very thing, the reigning in of costs. What a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Sorry, I’ve digressed badly.

Back to the purpose of this post. What does deflation mean to agriculture?

It’s pretty much agreed that the developing nations’ economic pictures are no longer so rosy, so previously anticipated demand from them may not come to fruition. Besides,they’re getting pretty good at large-scale ag commodity production themselves. We can no longer take for granted export markets in agriculture, and are relying more upon trade agreements. Some of those quasi expert economists which I referred to earlier are in Japan-speak right now, talking decades-out deflation. With an agricultural system that is built upon a mix of supply and demand forces, and policy-driven forces, each of those will be hurt during deflationary time periods. Demand will go down, both domestically and globally. Policy supports will probably back off as well.

Which brings us to the subject of corn.

We already knew we had too much of it and there are rumblings that there’s way more corn out there than the USDA is currently reporting. My family is telling me that there is the biggest daily-growing pile of corn in their small town in Eastern Nebraska, that they’ve ever seen. Corn is piling up everywhere. Farmers are holding on to it in hopes of better future prices even as the EPA has sanely reduced the previously set RFS limits to react to the blend-wall problem, driving its price down further.

Farmland prices are leveling off, as they should be, and there is no doubt that between QE and ethanol policy, the price of farmland is in a bubble.

As other areas of our economy are hit by deflation, agriculture will be, too. Today’s must-read is by Ed Clark, who wrote “Today’s Debt Level Surprisingly Close to 1979,” in which he states, “Featherstone is not predicting a repeat of the 1980s, yet he says the similarities between 1979 and 2012 are striking. ‘If there is a bust, it most likely would be caused by a drop in revenue than higher interest rates.’”

The corn farmer’s revenue is dropping. Per bushel corn prices are under their cost of production. Demand for corn is down.

And in the Midwest, the region which dictates agricultural policy for the whole U.S., it’s all about corn.