Corn Commentary

#Classic15 Memorable Moments

classic15-knife-cuttingRibbon Cutting by Pocket Knife

The Commodity Classic trade show ribbon cutters were having a hard time with some dull scissors so it came down to a pocketknife to start the show. Good reason to pack it in your suitcase or drive to an event – you never know when that pocketknife can come in handy!

Record Crowd

Once again, Commodity Classic set new records for both the trade show and attendance. The trade show featured 355 booths and attendance broke the record on the first day with 7759 registered and more expected in the final numbers.

classic15-recordSecretary Makes 6th Classic Appearance

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has now attended more than one quarter of the 20 Commodity Classics, with his sixth appearance last week. Vilsack said he felt “in the presence of greatness” at the event, and spent much of his address talking about the importance of Trade Promotion Authority for the president in achieving new trade agreements. Vilsack Addresses Commodity Classic

classic15-vilsack-tradeVilsack Visits Trade Show

After spending the whole morning visiting with farmer leaders, addressing attendees, and meeting the press, Secretary Vilsack took a quick stroll through part of the Commodity Classic trade show before heading out. He visited each of the commodity organization booths, all of the USDA booths, and a few others along the way, like the Renewable Fuels Association.

2015 Commodity Classic Photo Album

Ag Unites for Trade with Cuba

usaccAgricultural companies and organizations united this week to launch the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) to work toward liberalized trade and re-establishing Cuba as a market for U.S. food and agriculture exports.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack says the conversation to normalize relations with Cuba is long overdue and important for US agriculture. “Cuba imports about 80 percent of its food,” said Vilsack. “It’s a $1.7 billion market. Our rice growers, our wheat growers, our corn growers, our soy producers, our poultry and pork and beef producers, all have opportunities in this new day.” Secretary Vilsack at US Ag Coalition for Cuba kickoff

One of several lawmakers who attended the Ag coalition kick off was Congressman Rodney Davis of Illinois who says re-establishing normal relations with Cuba will help the Cuban people. “I believe that opening more trade with agricultural products…increasing the trade that we already have in the Cuban nation, is going to allow America to invest in a Cuban economy that’s going to free the Cuban citizens from the conditions they live under now,” said Davis. Cong. Rodney Davis of Illinois at USACC launch

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) says he is excited about the opportunities of increasing trade relations with Cuba. “The real excitement to me is the opportunity to … spread Democracy, the opportunity to do what farmers do naturally and that is feed hungry people,” he said. “Trade ought to be a part of diplomacy.” Cong. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota at USACC launch

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is one of the many agricultural organizations that have joined the coalition.

“Cuba is not a level playing field for American farmers. It’s time we have a chance to better compete for Cuba’s business. NCGA has long supported normalized trade relations with Cuba, as part of our efforts to expand markets for U.S. corn and feed the world,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling.

The USACC believes that normalizing trade relations between the U.S. and Cuba will provide the U.S. farm and business community with new market access opportunities, drive enhanced growth in both countries and allow U.S. farmers, ranchers and food companies to efficiently address Cuban citizen’s food security needs. Under current sanctions, U.S. food and agriculture companies can legally export to Cuba, but financing and trade restrictions limit their ability to serve the market competitively. The USACC ultimately seeks to end the embargo and allow for open trade and investment.

Big Export Year for Corn

corn-exportsThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its final total for fiscal year 2014 agricultural exports and they are indeed a new record.

“It’s a big record, too,” said USDA chief economist Joe Glauber. The final tally was a big $152.5 billion, an increase of $11.5 billion or eight percent from last year’s record $141 billion.

Soybean exports topped the charts for value, at $24 billion, but corn beat out beans in volume with 50 million metric tons – a 156 percent increase over 2013. And value was up significantly as well. “We’re up almost 99 percent over last year at $11.1 billion,” said Glauber. “Corn rebounded dramatically … a lot of that was the huge increase in volume.” The rebound of course was from the 2012 drought which cut exports significantly.

The top destination for U.S. corn exports was Japan, which accounted for almost 25% of the total volume, while number two Mexico took about 20% of the total. South Korea came in third, with Columbia and Egypt rounding out the top five. Egypt imported nearly 2.9 million metric tons of U.S. corn in the last year, up from zero the previous marketing year. China, which was the overall number one destination for agricultural exports in 2013-14, came in sixth on the list for corn.

Corn Acres are Lower but Weather is Key

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is now estimating corn acreage planted is at 91.6 million acres, down 4 percent from last year, which represents the lowest planted acreage in the United States since 2010, but still the fifth-largest acreage planted since 1944.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber says with the numbers in, the attention shifts from acres to weather and yield prospects. “July is a very important month for corn,” said Glauber. “So for the next six weeks, the attention is going to be shifting to what those yields look like.”

corn-damageAs of Sunday, the corn crop was looking pretty good, according to meteorologist Brad Rippey. “The corn now 75% good to excellent on June 29, an increase of one percent from a week ago, eight points better than this time in 2013,” Rippey says.

Rippey notes there are problem areas like Minnesota with 10% of the crop in poor to very poor condition due to flooding. And since the crop progress survey was done on Sunday, corn fields in Iowa, like the one pictured here, were literally flattened after severe storms brought heavy rain, hail and high winds.

Just saw a meme that seems applicable. “Mother Nature is not only bipolar, but clearly off her meds.” Keep that in mind farmers, you are at the whim of a crazy lady.

Starting the Conversation on T-TIP

vilsack-usdaAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Europe last week meeting with agricultural and trade officials and about the importance of agriculture’s role in the U.S.-European Union (EU) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). He started the week in Brussels by meeting with 28 agricultural ministers and representatives from the EU.

“I wanted to emphasize the opportunity and the necessity that agriculture has got to be a significant part of whatever the trade discussions ultimately end up being with T-TIP,” said Vilsack. “I was very candid with my colleagues that absent a real commitment to agriculture in this trade agreement it would be very difficult for Congress to get the votes to pass T-TIP.”

Vilsack said among the challenges related to agriculture in the agreement are tariffs, non-tariff barriers, sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, biotechnology, regulatory simplification, pathogen reduction, and geographic indicators.

Ultimately, Vilsack believes there are more similarities than differences between the United States and Europe. “We have a common goal, which is expanding markets, and we have a common language when it comes to dealing with these difficult issues and that common language is science,” he said.

In addition to Brussels, Vilsack visited with officials in Luxembourg, Paris, and Dublin.

Vilsack press call from Brussels

Planting Zooms Ahead on Potential Record Crop

USDA is calling for record corn and soybean crops in the first outlook report for the 2014-2015 season. Chief economist Joe Glauber says corn production is forecast at just a little bit more than last year’s record crop with higher expected yields more than offsetting a reduction in planted area.

corn-emerge“What would be a record yield at 165.3 bushels per acre,” he said. Glauber says they are also expecting higher ending stocks but lower prices compared to this year. “I think we’re looking at a season average corn price of around $4.25, which I might add is higher than what we were carrying back at Outlook Conference when we were thinking prices would potentially be below $4, but still down 10% from this year.”

USDA is also forecasting a record soybean crop for the U-S at 3.635 billion bushels and record global production.

Of course it all depends on the weather, but USDA meteorologist Brad Rippy says Mother Nature helped corn planting seriously pick up the pace last week. “For just the single week ending May 11, we saw 30% of the U.S. corn planting during that seven day period,” he said. “The overall progress by May 11 reached 59%, that is now ahead of the five year average and more than twice last year’s pace.”

“All it takes is good weather, good equipment and long hours for our farmers to be able to catch up,” said NCGA President Martin Barbre. Out in front is Iowa with nearly half the state’s corn acreage was planted last week, with the state going from 23 percent to 70 percent planted. Some states however, such as North Dakota, are still lagging behind at 3 percent, with Michigan and Wisconsin following at 20 percent.

Meanwhile, corn emergence also continues to catch up, with 18 percent of the crop now emerged, compared to the five-year average of 25 percent.

Corn Planting Slow and Steady

corn-plant-14So corn planting is running behind the five year average right now – but it’s ahead of last year’s progress at this time and we had a record crop in 2013. Remember how the tortoise beat the hare in the old fable – slow and steady wins the race!

Illinois, Indiana and Iowa have barely begun to plant, according to the latest report out of USDA NASS this week. Just one percent in Iowa, two in Indiana and five in Illinois so far, but that is more than last year. And Missouri is actually just about caught up to the five year average with 26 percent planted while Kansas is ahead of average at 21 percent.

National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre of Illinois is confident planting progress will take off quickly as the weather warms. “Keep in mind that last year, planting season started off slowly, and we harvest a record corn crop in the fall. In 2012, planting flew by quickly, but severe drought plagued much of the country and damaged the overall crop. Farmers realize that a long planting and growing season, which may present opportunities and obstacles, still lies ahead.”

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!



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