Category Archives: soybeans

Make Your Own Soy Milk or Almond Milk. It’s Easy!

It is a real treat in this modern day and age to actually be invited over to a neighbor’s house for dinner, and we were lucky to find ourselves in that position recently.

Somehow, late in the meal along with the strawberries atop the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, the discussion revealed that our neighbor makes his own soy milk. He was really enthusiastic about it, bringing out his machine to show us (similar to the one in the video below) and also bringing out his bag of organic soybeans which he orders online from a farmer-supplier in Iowa. He said that it costs him about 50 cents worth of organic soybeans to make one batch, which is a great savings over store-bought soy milk.

Who knew there was so much hope in the world only a block away from my house?

Just in case this topic is as unfamiliar to you as it was to me, I’m posting two videos to demonstrate how easy it is to get started making your own soy milk, or almond milk.

In the video below, P. Allen Smith shows us how to make soy milk, both the old way – on the cookstove, and then he also shows how to make it by using a soy milk machine.

Then, in this next video, Dani Spies demonstrates how to make almond milk, which looks even easier than making soy milk.

If you snoop around Youtube and the internet, you can also find how-to videos on making oat milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and other plant based milks.

These milks are touted by all who would like to see humans transition to more plant based diets, plus they give you control over the taste, amount of sugar, and additives as compared to commercial products.

Personally, I like the idea because it counts as home cooking which means less packaging and less embedded fossil fuels – which are necessary for refrigerated milk distribution.

Perhaps it’s time to have your neighbors over for a dinner party so you can share your innovations in cooking with each other.

Bon Appetit!

Do Corn and Soybean Farmers Feel Like Hamsters on Wheels?


Flickr CC photo by Asad.

Though we always hear that there needs to be more investment in agricultural research, an agronomy student once told me that his professors are frustrated by the fact that nothing they can offer in the way of agricultural advice will be adopted by farmers unless it increases their profitability. And, usually that comes by way of reducing labor, increasing yields, or through policy.

We have a situation today where the efficiency of industrialized agricultural methods are being challenged because of ever rising input costs as well as ever growing global production competition as more and more of the developing nations adopt our industrial methods of production. Additionally, whereas the U.S. used to be the world’s corn exporting powerhouse, we’ve relinquished export market share since mandated ethanol policy went into effect.

In recent years, the agribusiness giants have done extremely well and many corn and soybean farmers have just ended a cycle of great crop incomes, too. We all know how well the S&P 500 has done in the past five years, but Deere has done even better:

In part recent farm-related profits have been due to government policies of direct farm payments and crop insurance, and in larger part, because of the biofuels mandates. But, it looks like that good time period is about to end. A recently released FAPRI study forecasts breakeven crop prices through 2023 for U.S. farmers.

Furthermore, during the five-year corn commodity price bull run we’ve just experienced, the profits went to the top half of producers, while the bottom half was left out; the top 10 percent of producers made 10 times the amount of profits than the bottom 10 percent.

Approximately 97 million acres of corn and 78 million acres of soybeans were planted in the U.S. in 2013. Let’s take a look at profitability from the farmer’s perspective by using data provided by Mike Duffy of the Iowa State Extension Service, who provides ongoing data updates for the input costs per acre to grow corn and soybean crops in Iowa. His data shows that the machinery costs for growing corn rose 420 percent in the 46 years between 1968 and 2014. The cost for seeds, chemicals, and fertilizers went up over 1000 percent. The yield in corn bushels per acre went up 77 percent for an overall cost per bushel increase of 347 percent over the past 46 years.

My chart below helps demonstrate the numbers:

And the following chart by Chad Hart of Iowa State helps us more in visualizing input costs versus returns of Iowa corn farmers (note the number of years that the average cost of production exceeds the corn price):

source: https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/info/agcycles/hart.pdf

Hart included this commentary with the graph above, “When we examine the average return to a bushel of Iowa corn over the entire time period from 1972 to 2012, it is a positive 5 cents per bushel. However, if you looked at 1972 to 2011, the average return was negative.”

Whereas the input providers can set their prices, the farmer-producer is always at the mercy of the markets. What the farmer has the liberty to decide, however, is his/her choice of methods.

As for benefits, a major economic benefit for the corn and soybean farmer comes from taxpayer supported policy programs which help to ensure that production costs are met each year. The new farm bill offers even greater support to the farmer when prices fall, putting a high floor under prices. Unfortunately, today’s policy also encourages farming on marginal land because of a guaranteed profit to the landowner.

Then, there is also the labor saving benefit of today’s row-crop farmer. Compared to the old rotational grazing systems, the grain farmer’s time commitments have fallen dramatically, offering a better lifestyle and the opportunity to work off the farm for additional income.

What does this all mean and where is the corn and soybean farmer headed?

First, precision agriculture may be another method to increase production, but it comes with a large price both in dollars and in trust of the technology, creating a new set of risks and challenges. Second, integrating cover crops into cash crops can make row-crop farming more ecological and more productive in the long run. And, third, it is expected that by planting closer together, and by further improving genetics, crop yields per acre can continue to increase, but that, too, will come with higher input costs of seeds, fertilizer, and machinery for farmers – which brings us once again to the hamster on the wheel situation.

The farmer who can reduce his/her input costs and produce a product of value, such as providing organic products to answer consumer demand, may do well, and, the younger farmer demographic is looking into new alternatives and ideas which challenge the status quo. Perhaps this is all best summarized by a CNBC news headline that I spotted over the weekend, “There’s a growing discontent around farming in America.”

3rd Quarter 2013: Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Farmland Price Report

Note that the Seventh District is made up of the northern portions of Illinois and Indiana, southern Wisconsin, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and the state of Iowa.

● On a year-over-year basis, farmland values in the Seventh Federal Reserve District gained 14 percent in the third quarter of 2013.

● On a quarterly basis, the District’s agricultural land values saw a gain of 1 percent in the third quarter of 2013 after recording no increase in the previous quarter.

● The USDA predicted that the five District states’ harvest of corn for grain would be 38 percent greater than the drought-reduced harvest of 2012.

● For the five District states, soybean production was projected by the USDA to rise 8.5 percent in 2013 from its 2012 level.

● Even with the reoccurrence of drought in parts of the District, the third-largest corn harvest and soybean harvest just outside the top ten filled storage bins across the Midwest.

Exports of Corn, Soybeans and Wheat from the District

I excerpted the export portion of this chart (above) to show the dramatic change in numbers for corn, soybeans and wheat from this district over one and two years ago. Though the dollar amount values for the combined three commodities haven’t changed dramatically, the bushel amounts sure have – with corn and soybeans falling and wheat rising. (The USDA and BLS like to report dollar amounts, and the bushel amounts are less frequently seen.)

Source: http://www.chicagofed.org/digital_assets/publications/agletter/2010_2014/november_2013.pdf

U.S. Organic Statistics and Trade: We Need More Organic Field Crop Producers

The latest issue of the USDA’s Amber Waves publication contains an interesting piece about the growth of organic crop production here in the U.S., and includes trade statistics, too.

Earlier this year, I covered an eye-opening WSJ article which informed us that we import organic soybeans from China these days due to a lack of production here, and the statistics in this USDA article help bear that out. I have been able to verify this, because occasionally, I buy dry roasted wasabi-flavored edamame beans to snack on, and when I’ve checked the package label, sure enough, the bean’s origin is China. (Note that edamame beans are immature soybeans.) I’ve also checked the organic frozen edamame bean packages at my favorite grocer, and they also originate from China.

Though U.S. organic food sales have grown from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $28 billion in 2012, still only 1 percent of U.S. farms are organic, and about 70 percent of them are in the Northwest or Pacific regions. Organic food sales were up 11 percent in 2012, from 2011, which would suggest we are in a period of rapid growth for this producer sector.

The following chart lists 2011 cropland acreages for specific organic crops such as corn and soybeans versus the respective total crop acreage. Note that in 2011, certified organic cropland made up only 0.7 percent of U.S. cropland, at 3.1 million acres. For field crops, only 0.3 percent of corn, 0.2 percent of soybeans, and 0.6 percent of wheat were grown as certified organic.

The top two organic food sellers in this country are fruit and vegetable produce, at 43 percent of total organic sales, and dairy, at 15 percent of total organic sales. Although fruit and vegetable fresh produce amounted to 43 percent of sales in 2011, this category used only 16 percent of the certified organic cropland.

The organic meat, fish, and poultry category sales have gained most over the last decade, but still only amount to 3 percent of total organic sales.

The two organic foods which we import with the greatest value, bananas and coffee, are tropical/subtropical crops which we aren’t able to grow here.

Of all the organic product imports, soybeans showed the biggest jump in value from 2011 to 2012, more than doubling to $90.2 million, and imports of organic rice, wheat, and other U.S. staple crops also grew. This would suggest a good opportunity for American farmers to supply these niche markets. Because I’d much rather snack on some dry roasted organic wasabi-flavored edamame beans that are grown, processed, and packaged in Iowa.

To learn more, please go to the source for additional charts and statistics.

EIA: U.S. Biodiesel Production and Ethanol Export Numbers

CORN ETHANOL

This 4-year chart from the EIA shows us that corn ethanol export amounts have fallen off in 2013 as compared to recent years:

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BIODIESEL

When you look at the following graph through July 2013, you can see how much biodiesel production has been increasing over the past year. I found it interesting that 11 percent of the biodiesel feedstocks used in July were from corn and that 25 percent of the biodiesel feedstocks were from lesser sources.

• U.S. production of biodiesel was 128 million gallons in July 2013. This was an increase from production of 113 million gallons in June 2013. Biodiesel production from the Midwest region (Petroleum Administration for Defense District 2) was 64% of the U.S. total. Production came from 111 biodiesel plants with operable capacity of 2.1 billion gallons per year.

• Producer sales of biodiesel during July 2013 included 87 million gallons sold as B100 (100% biodiesel) and an additional 40 million gallons of B100 sold in biodiesel blends with diesel fuel derived from petroleum.

• There were a total of 978 million pounds of feedstocks used to produce biodiesel in July 2013. Soybean oil was the largest biodiesel feedstock during July 2013 with 480 million pounds consumed. The next three largest biodiesel feedstocks during the period were corn oil (108 million pounds), yellow grease (97 million pounds), and tallow (45 million pounds).

source: EIA

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Also, in recent news, the Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has announced a new $181 million in loan guarantees to build refineries or to retrofit existing biorefineries to produce advanced biofuels.

How are our Agricultural Exports Doing?

I have been a fan of the fine job that Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer do in analysis and writing over at the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. This fall they have been writing about the changing role that U.S. agricultural exports are playing in the increasingly competitive global market. Below, I’ve republished their entire writing about corn, followed by links to their articles about the export situations for soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.

Corn exports: A case of unrealized expectations and farm policies that did not deliver

Corn is, without a doubt, the most important crop grown by US farmers and yet for the 2012 crop year US corn exports are projected to be a paltry 715 million bushels, the lowest level since 1970. In addition, for the first time since 1970, wheat exports exceeded corn exports.

The short explanation for this situation lays blame on a severe drought in the major corn production areas in the US. The longer explanation is a bit more complicated than that. The drought is just part of a larger story that has played out over the last half-century.

In 1960, US corn production was just under 4 billion bushels, nearly the same as non-US corn production (all years are harmonized to a standard crop year that that begins in what closely corresponds to the US fall harvest in the named year and ends at the beginning of the next crop year). By 2010, US corn production had tripled to 12.5 billion bushels before falling to 10.8 billion bushels in 2012. During that same period, non-US corn production increased to 20.3 billion bushels.

While both US and non-US yields nearly tripled between 1960 and 2010, US harvested acres increased by 14 percent. At the same time, non-US corn harvested acres increased by 79 percent, accounting for the lion’s share of the gain in production, relative to the US.

World corn exports as a percent of domestic consumption was 7.2 percent in 1960. By 1975 world exports had jumped to over 16 percent of domestic consumption and remained above that level until 1982 when it fell to 14 percent. In the years since 1982, corn exports relative to domestic consumption have remained below 16 percent, falling to 10.7 percent in 2012.

At 275 million bushels in 1960, US exports were an almost half of world corn exports. In 1972 US corn exports jumped to 77.9 percent of world corn exports and remained above 70 percent for sixteen of the next twenty-three years. In five of those years, the US share of world corn exports exceeded 80 percent, including 1995. With the drought in 2012, it was the non-US exports that stood at 80 percent, a level unseen in the preceding 52 years.

The 1970s was a time of unprecedented growth in US corn exports. Growth continued into in the early 1980s, but fell sharply in the mid-1980s. While the US share of world corn exports was relatively high off-and-on over part of the period after the mid-1980s, there has been no upward trend in US corn exports during the last 28 years.

Non-US corn exports on the other hand have expanded greatly, reaching 1 billion bushels in 1999 and hitting 3 billion bushels in both 2011 and 2012. In 2012, for the first time, the US was not the world’s largest exporter of corn, falling to third behind Brazil and Argentina. As recently as 1998, Brazil exported just 315 thousand bushels, compared to 965 million bushels in 2012.

Clearly, corn production and exports are subject to long-term trends. For production, the trend has been decidedly upward in the US and elsewhere in the world. Increases in technology and the rate of adoption of new technologies have the potential to keep this trend going.

So what does all this tell us?

Beginning with the 1985 Farm Bill, the US has pursued policies thought to be consistent with getting grain exports—corn exports specifically—back on an upward trend similar to the 1970s. Those efforts have been doomed to failure in large measure by the steady increase in corn acreage in the rest of the world. Furthermore, additional future increases in worldwide corn acreages will be coming from places like Brazil, not the US. Also, the rate of increase in non-US corn yields may well accelerate in the future.

The US will continue to be an important player in the corn export market. But declarations and farm policies predicated on the expectation that corn exports will be the primary driver for a prosperous US agriculture are no more likely to deliver in the future than they have over the last nearly three decades.

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Soybeans: US export trend is up, share of world exports is down

In contrast to corn where US exports have generally been flat since hitting a peak between 1979 and 1981, US soybean exports have generally trended upward over time. The US exported 5.8 MMT (million metric tons) of soybeans in 1964, passed the 10 MMT threshold in 1969, the 20 MMT threshold in 1978 falling below that level in 7 of the next 27 years before passing the 30 MMT level in 2006 and the 40 MMT level three years later in 2009. With a drought reduced crop, 2012 US soybean exports were 35.8 MMT….

US wheat exports down by nearly half from 1981 peak while non-US wheat exports have doubled

US wheat production stood at 1.4 billion bushels in 1960, dropping to 1.1 billion bushels before taking off as the export boom of the 1970s began to surge. By 1981 and 1982, US wheat production had reached 2.8 billion bushels, double its level just 20 years earlier. And farmers and politicians alike thought that ever-expanding exports had solved the “farm problem.” Since then US wheat production has leveled off remaining in the 2.0 to 2.5 billion-bushel range as producers sought more profitable alternatives….

Most US cotton production traditionally went to domestic mills, now it goes abroad

During the last half century, cotton production has had its share of ups and downs; though this year’s cotton production is expected to be near what it was fifty-plus years ago. Cotton demand has also been variable, but what is most striking is the shift in where the cotton is utilized, that is, processed. Traditionally domestic demand in the form of purchases by US cotton mills dominated US cotton demand, but in recent years export demand has become as dominate as domestic demand used to be….

US is the 4th largest rice exporter; each of the 3 largest rice exporters export more than US produces

US production and consumption of rice have increased markedly over the last half-century, but compared to Asian countries, the US plays a bit-role in world rice production. Most of the rice consumed in the US is domestically grown, though less now than years ago….