Corn Commentary

Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

classic14-vilsack-stageAs long as he has been Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack has made it a priority to address the annual Commodity Classic, so for the fifth time he took the stage last week at the event in front of a record crowd of more than 7,000.

“It is awfully nice to come here today to talk about the PASSAGE of a farm bill, as opposed the need for a farm bill,” Vilsack began, adding that people don’t thank farmers enough for the work they do, especially considering how vital they are in the food, energy and economic security America enjoys. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charged with making sure the implementation of the Farm Bill translates into hope for all farmers, old and new alike. “Our Farm Bill, which you helped pass, for me creates a hopeful set of opportunities and rewards, and will invest in innovation.”

While he did not mention the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) specifically during his address, Vilsack did talk about the need to increase exports of ethanol. “We think the world is ready for American biofuel,” he said. Secretary Vilsack at Commodity Classic

The Secretary did meet with farmer leaders at the Classic and discussed the pending EPA proposal to lower the RFS volume obligations this year and he was asked about his discussions with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a press conference following his address. “I have focused not simply on talking to her and repeating what she’s getting from comments about people’s attitudes about this, I’m looking for ways that we can help this industry regardless of what EPA does, because I think it’s critically important,” said Vilsack.

That includes not only promoting exports of ethanol to countries such as India, China and Japan, but also finding ways to add infrastructure. “Congress sort of closed one door by saying we no longer could use the REAP program for pumping systems… but there are other rural development programs so we’ll just be creative about using the other programs until Congress decides to shut that door,” he said.

Vilsack stressed that he will continue to do everything he can to help the biofuels industry and “trust that EPA at the end of the day makes the right set of decisions.”Vilsack Classic Press Conference


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

Lower Farm Income No Crisis

tractorcadeWord out of USDA this week that farm income is projected to drop dramatically this year brought visions of tractorcades and Farm Aids from the 1980s, but hold those calls to Willie and keep the tractors in the fields because a repeat of the infamous farm crisis is highly unlikely.

Net farm income is forecast to be $95.8 billion this year, down 26.5 percent from last year, and net cash income is expected to be almost 22 percent lower. “I wasn’t surprised at the farm income projections for 2014,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “After all, there are very little, if any, government payments involved in this projection because of the way in which the new farm bill is structured.”

Putting it in perspective, Vilsack says the projection is actually about $11 billion above the ten year average for farm income. “While it’s not as great as last year’s record, it’s still pretty doggone good,” he said.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says the reason another farm crisis is unlikely is that the farm financial picture going into this year is very positive. “Farmers are still carrying very low levels of debt relative to their assets,” said Glauber. In fact, farm asset values will likely increase this year, lowering the debt to asset ratio to just 10.5 percent, compared to the 25% seen during the ’80s. “You’d need almost a 70% reduction in land values to get you in that range,” he added.

In other words, this is not your father’s farm economy. And if the mood at the National Farm Machinery Show this week is any indication, farmers are pretty optimistic going into planting season this year and ready to plant some big crops to make up for lower prices.

Harvest in the Bin

2013 corn harvestThe 2013 harvest is considered completed at this point and the overall consensus is that it was a strange year that turned out well in the end.

Lance Honig with USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service says it looks especially good compared to 2012. “Last year with the extreme drought, we’d be hard pressed not to be above last year,” he said, adding that the growing season this year was certainly different than last year but no more normal. “What is normal these days? Nobody knows what a normal is.”

Despite all the challenges that faced farmers this season, the nation’s corn crop is on track to be a record high 14 billion bushels, according to the November crop production forecast, which was the final one of the season. “So the next report will be the final end-of-season numbers coming out January 10,” said Honig. NASS is beginning the process this week of surveying some 80,000 farmers for that report “so we can capture that actual harvest information from them.”

Leah Guffey interviewed Lance at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting annual Trade Talk last month: Interview with Lance Honig, USDA-NASS

Found this YouTube video from Cross Implement in central Illinois using Luke Bryan’s Harvest Time to help celebrate this special time of year!

Corn Commentary for Farm Broadcasters

There was lots of corn commentating going on last week at the 70th annual National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) annual meeting in Kansas City.

nafb13-martinThe National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is a big supporter of the guys and gals who put farm news on radio and television stations and the internet. “It gives us the opportunity to get our message out to the public and to farmers,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre.

NCGA sponsors the welcoming reception for the NAFB and then organization leaders do tons of interviews with the broadcasters during the annual Trade Talk, which is where I interviewed Martin about a number of topics, including but not limited to, the farm bill and WRRDA. Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre

nafb13-ncgaNCGA First Vice President Chip Bowling of Maryland was also on hand to chat with the broadcasters. He also talked about the farm bill, like everyone else, and about environmental regulations in his area around the Chesapeake Bay that are threatening agricultural producers.

It was especially interesting to farm broadcasters from the Midwest to get a different perspective on corn farming from a producer on the East coast. “In the Mid-Atlantic, we started planting corn right around the first of April, we had a good start and the corn crop just took off from the get-go and grew,” said Chip, noting it was a lot different this year in the Corn Belt. “Obviously with 14 billion bushels coming off, somebody grew a lot of good corn.”

Leah Guffey interviews Chip here: Interview with NCGA first VP Chip Bowling

2013 NAFB Convention Photo Album

Harvest is on a Roll

After a slow start, the 2013 harvest is pretty much back on schedule in most of the country, but it seems late compared to last year’s record pace.

As of Sunday, USDA reports 73 percent of the corn crop was harvested, two points ahead of average, but more than 20% less than last year at this time. Only a few states are running behind at this point.

mcgaMissouri is exactly on pace with the five year average at 82% complete by Sunday. Last week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon joined the Missouri Corn Growers Association at a grain elevator in the northeast part of the state to celebrate the success of the season’s crop.

“Right now, state corn yields statewide are up and we’re seeing averages pushing well above 125 bushels per acre with some farmers reporting high yields of about 200 bushels per acre in this region,” said Nixon.

MCGA CEO Gary Marshall says the Missouri crop is “one of the largest we’ve ever had” and believes the nation’s crop this year will be “the largest in history.” USDA will be coming out with the latest crop estimate on Friday.

The governor had lots of praise for corn farmers and the added value they provide to the state’s economy in the form of ethanol production and exports. Listen to his remarks here: Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Pictured here in this photo from MCGA: Acting Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture Harry Bozoian, Gary Marshall, Gov. Jay Nixon and ADM Director of State Government Relations Chris Riley.

Corn Crop Lowered but Record Still Expected

Despite a wet spring causing a challenging start to the season, the 2013 corn crop is still looking to break new ground this year, according to the latest USDA production estimate out Monday.

corn-field“This crop should be a record crop,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber. “This is our first objective yield survey of the corn crop, showing a yield of 154.4 bushels per acre, which is way off trend yields but that combined with the real large acreage we saw planted this spring means a very large crop.”

The forecast is 13.8 billion bushels, down slightly from the last estimate, but up 28 percent from 2012. The average yield estimated would be the highest since 2009. Area harvested for grain is forecast at 89.1 million acres, unchanged from the June forecast but up 2 percent from 2012.

However, Glauber points out that much can change between now and harvest, especially since crops were planted so late. “Because it’s developing late, we don’t have good ear weights yet,” he said. “These ears are going to have to fill out and right now we’re doing it on what we expect the fill out to be.” Later development also makes the crop more susceptible to early frost.

World Ag Outlook Board Chair Gerald Bange says the latest forecast means tighter supplies and higher prices. “We’ve gone up 10 cents on each end, between 4.50 and 5.30 per bushel for corn,” he said. The new World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate projects ending stocks for 2013/14 will be 122 million bushels lower.

Exports are projected 25 million bushels lower with reduced domestic supplies and increased foreign competition. “We’re going to see a lot of corn coming out of places such as Ukraine, for example,” Bange said, as well as continued strong competition from Brazil.

However, Bange was quick to note that the overall export forecast for 2013-14 is up over 70%.

Fun Facts in Historical Ag Data

Did you know?

In 1933, hybrid corn seeds made up only one-tenth of 1 percent of the national crop. Within ten years, that proportion reached 50 percent, and by 1956, more than 90 percent of the national corn crop was from hybrid seeds.

Iowa harvested 2.36 billion bushels of corn in 2011, more than the entire U.S. corn harvest of 1935.

That’s just a couple of the fun agricultural facts uncovered in 77 years of historical data now available online from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The agency has just completed the digital compilation of data since 1936 which is now easily accessible to anyone with internet access. In the past, this information, published in the annual bulletin Agricultural Statistics, was available in print form only.

“U.S. agriculture continues to progress by learning from our past, which is why it is imperative to have historic data easily available,” said Dr. Cynthia Clark, NASS Administrator. “By publishing this information online we are simplifying the research process and further enhancing access to this important and interesting information.”

NASS and its predecessors at USDA have published Agricultural Statistics since 1936. The bulletins are a compilation of data produced by multiple agencies within USDA. Each volume is a one-stop location for annual production, consumption, trade, and price data for all sorts of crops and livestock, as well as farm economics, spending for government programs, and lots of other statistics important to our country’s agricultural system. These volumes detail U.S. farming for much of the 20th century, including the Dust Bowl and World War II.

Check it out!

Corn Growers Support Conservation in Action

“Without soil, we’re out of business.”

ctic-13-5That is the simple reason why corn growers support cutting edge conservation practices, according to Illinois farmer Dan Cole, a member of the National Corn Growers Association Production & Stewardship Action Team (PSAT) who took part in last week’s Conservation Technology Information Center 2013 Conservation in Action Tour. “PSAT is in charge of water quality and sustainability,” he said. “We also do the corn grower contest, river transportation, but today we’re focused more on soil health.”

“This is cutting edge,” Dan told Chuck Zimmerman during the event. “We went from the mold board plow to the chisel plow, now we’re looking at more sustainable cover crops, no-till, strip till. Everything is to make that organic matter cycle quicker in production agriculture.” Interview with Illinois farmer Dan Cole

ctic-12-wellerConservation is no longer an option for farmers. “It’s really become part of the business plan” for farmers, said USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service acting chief Jason Weller. That’s why it is so critical to get a five year farm bill in place. “It’s really important for us to have that farm bill in place so that our customers, the farmers and ranchers of America, know what the programs are” to put a long term plan in place for land stewardship.

Weller says conservation programs help ensure the wise use of resources and allows farmers to be more successful. “Conservation can help them better manage the soil resources, be more efficient with nutrient application, be more energy efficient, be more water efficient, and ultimately more productive,” he said. Interview with Jason Weller, USDA-NRCS

Silking is Slow but Corn Still Looks Good

corn-silkingCorn silking made progress last week but is still way less than the five year average at just 16% nationwide, less than half what it normally should be at this point according to the latest crop progress report.

“It’s well behind the five year average of 35 percent and last year’s 67 percent,” said USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey, who expects a lot more corn moving into the reproductive stage of development in the next week or so. “Just in the last week we’ve seen silking advance more than 20 percentage points in Indiana, and also in Kansas and Kentucky.” In Illinois, where this photo was taken, just 21% of the crop was silking as of Sunday, compared to the 50% average for this time of year.

Meanwhile, the corn condition is still rated 68% good to excellent, which is a slight drop from the previous week, but way better than last year at this time when the drought was in full swing and barely 30% of the corn was looking good or better. Rippey says the worst states are in the western part of the corn belt.

corn-field“Corn is now more than one-fifth rated poor to very poor in Colorado at 24%, Kansas 22 percent,” with both Missouri and Iowa also creeping up into double digits for poor to very poor ratings as well. That is being attributed to short term dryness on top of heavy moisture earlier in the season. Corn is in the best shape right now in Kentucky and Indiana with over 80% good to excellent. Most of the rest of the states are in the seventies with Illinois, where we found this field, is rated just under 70% good or better.

More Corn Acres than Expected

northey-cornDespite the challenging planting conditions this spring USDA is saying that farmers have planted even more corn than last year and the most acres in 77 years, according to Friday’s Acreage report.

Corn planted area for all purposes in 2013 is estimated at 97.4 million acres, up slightly from last year. This represents the highest planted acreage in the United States since 1936 when an estimated 102 million acres were planted. Growers expect to harvest 89.1 million acres for grain, up 2 percent from last year.

Not only that, soybean acreage is a new record. Soybean planted area for 2013 is estimated at a record high 77.7 million acres, up 1 percent from last year. Area for harvest, at 76.9 million acres, is up 1 percent from 2012 and will be a record high, if realized. Record high planted acreage is estimated in New York, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Corn acreage is up in 23 states, but most of them are not major corn producing areas. In fact, acreage is down in the big corn states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri but small increases are noted in states like Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio.

The question is whether USDA will resurvey farmers now, based on the spring planting issues. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has already announced it will collect updated information next month for acres planted to soybean in fourteen states, but no word on corn.

Credit for the photo once again goes to Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey who has a great set of 2013 crop photos on Facebook.



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