U.S. Agriculture: Challenging Times Ahead

Seven Impacts Of ‘High Corn’

Regardless of how we got here, what’s clear is that commodity prices in general — and corn prices in particular — have been well above historical norms for most of the past five years. This period of high prices has caused several impacts that feel good in the short term but sow the seeds of distorted valuations and mal-investment (which ultimately don’t feel nearly as pleasant). These long-term impacts fit into seven primary categories:

1. New Technology Introduced into Agriculture. Technologies which generate an incremental few bushels of corn are very difficult to justify when prices are low. At higher prices, however, farmers can quickly justify the expenditure. The boom in biologics, specialty fertilizer and enhanced seed all provide evidence of this technology induction effect. A related phenomenon we are observing is technology migration from high value coastal crops to the Midwest. This is by far the most desirable and sustainable impact of the price boom, as these technologies will probably be around far longer than temporarily elevated corn prices.

2. New Land Introduced into Production. The value of corn and soybeans has resulted in significant acreage expansion in these crops. In many cases this acreage came from other crops such as wheat, oats, barley, and sorghum, but a great deal of this acreage came from conservation reserve (CRP) acreage that was rolled out of conservation and into production.  After five straight years of increases, in 2013 farmers planted the most acres of corn since 1936.

3. Demand Rationed Among Existing Users. Some of the loudest critics of ethanol have been livestock producers, for an obvious reason. The spike in corn prices over the past five years has resulted in significant profit declines for livestock producers, extraordinary efforts to incorporate alternatives like DDGSs into rations, and downsizing of herds to cope with decreased profitability.

4. Increased Farm Income. Farm income has spiked in recent years as enhanced corn profitability drifted down to the bottom line. U.S. growers have reaped record profits over the past several years, ironically even in the drought year of 2012, due partly to dramatically higher prices and partly to lucrative crop insurance payments.

5. Higher Seed, Chem and Equip­ment Sales. Sales of inputs, from fertilizer to chemicals to seeds to equipment, have all risen dramatically over the past five years. Part of this growth was volume growth due to greater acreage, but a substantial portion was unit pricing growth for primary inputs.

6. Increased Ag Asset Prices, Especially Land. We have all been reading for several years about the dramatic increases in farmland prices, with quality Midwest farm ground fetching $12,000 to $15,000 per acre. Cash rents have doubled with many growers paying $350 to $500/acre.

7. Outside Investment in Agricul­ture Stimulated. Outside ownership of farmland is increasing dramatically, with institutional and private investors buying substantial quantities of farmland. Private equity and venture firms have also substantially increased their investment in the sector.

Waning Ethanol Support

For those following the news on the RFS, a great debate is underway on whether U.S. government support to ethanol will be decreased. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, it seems the presence of the RFS has been largely priced into commodity markets, which means the only logical impact of a reduction in the RFS is a further decline in corn pricing.

This is critical as the markets have adjusted to a “new normal” of 13 billion gallons of corn ethanol.
The majority of the impact of this volume has already been built into the markets, which means the most likely impact of any changes to the RFS are downward as the market responds to less demand than what it had previously priced for corn in ethanol.

The high price of corn has had the impact that any economist would predict — expansion of supply and destruction of demand. More corn acres, both in the U.S. as well as abroad, have increased supply, as well as a deep focus on the development of yield enhancing technology. The livestock industry and corn export markets have borne the brunt of the corn demand destruction. Ethanol demand destruction is more erratic as variability in global oil prices, along with corn, determines the “spread” for ethanol production.

The Road From Here

Most importantly, the profit engine for producers is sputtering as higher land and input prices combine with reduced corn prices to dramatically shrink margins. At the likely contribution margin from corn production, today’s cash rents are simply unsustainable — cash rent negotiations between landowners and tenants is likely to be pretty painful this winter. We can also expect dramatically tighter production margins to negatively affect input and equipment sales volumes and pricing strength going into 2014. Recent declines in corn prices, when combined with better protein prices, should enhance livestock profits along with corn demand.

In economic terms, the ag market has “gotten ahead of itself” and we can expect a year or two of correction while we undergo some demand expansion and supply contraction, the exact opposite of the past few years. By 2016-17 a more sustainable long-term bull market built on global demand is likely to emerge after our secular agricultural uptrend experiences a cyclical correction.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Management Stories

ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and RNC Invite
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Other Changes
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurface Field Drainage Systems
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Soybean Field
LegislationOhio Soybean Association Names Brian Hill Legislator Of The Year
July 19, 2016
The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) has announced that State Representative Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) has been named one of two Legislators of Read More
Trending Articles
Heritage Cooperative
Retail FacilitiesKahler Automation Designs State-Of-The-Art Facility For Heritage Cooperative
July 4, 2016
Heritage Cooperative in Marysville, OH, needed an efficient liquid, dry and grain facility to serve the many needs of their Read More
The Andersons Waterloo
ManagementFirst Indiana Facility Certified Under 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program
June 27, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s Waterloo, IN, facility has been added to its Read More
Food IT
Industry NewsCalifornia Event Will Mix Ag And Tech Professionals To Explore IT Solutions
June 20, 2016
Silicon Valley is hot on agriculture, and an upcoming event in California will bring together the food and tech industries Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Eric SfiligojWhat’s Next For Monsanto?
May 31, 2016
For the folks at Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis, MO, it has been an eventful few weeks. Back on May Read More
Soybean Plant closeup
Industry NewsMonsanto Rejects Bayer Bid; Open To More Talks
May 25, 2016
Monsanto Co, the world’s largest seed company, turned down Bayer AG’s $62 billion acquisition bid as “incomplete and financially inadequate” Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Latest News
ManagementGROWMARK Meeting Visit, Company Takeover Updates, and R…
July 22, 2016
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss their recent speaking engagement at GROWMARK’s eastern event, crop protection company merger rumors, Read More
Crop InputsMonsanto: EU Approves Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Imports
July 22, 2016
Monsanto Co. announced today that the European Commission has granted import approval for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans. This milestone Read More
Syngenta headquarters in Basel, Switzerland
Crop InputsSyngenta Announces Alfalfa Seed Split Off
July 22, 2016
On September 1, 2016, Syngenta will transfer sales and distribution of alfalfa seed to the NEXGROW branded business that is Read More
Dow DuPont
Crop InputsDuPont, Dow Shareholders Approve Merger
July 21, 2016
DuPont and The Dow Chemical Company announced that, at their respective special meetings of stockholders held today, stockholders of both Read More
ManagementLand O’Lakes Announces SUSTAIN Business Unit, Oth…
July 20, 2016
Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formal organization of a new business unit, SUSTAIN, and its leadership. SUSTAIN will focus Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Shareholder Proposes Monsanto ‘Host…
July 20, 2016
One of Bayer AG’s top 20 shareholders said Wednesday it may make sense for the life-science company to launch an Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Industry NewsNew Leaf Symbiotics Snags Former Monsanto Microbials Le…
July 20, 2016
NewLeaf Symbiotics, announced today the appointment of Dr. Janne Kerovuo as Vice President for Research and Discovery.  Dr. Kerovuo comes Read More
Corn and ditch
ManagementStudy: Saturated Buffers Reduce Nitrates From Subsurfac…
July 19, 2016
The Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition (ADMC), Agricultural Drainage Management Systems Task Force and Dr. Dan Jaynes with the National Laboratory Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentAgronomists, CCAs, Custom Applicators Invited To FSR Ag…
July 19, 2016
Agronomists, Certified Crop Advisers (CCA) and custom applicators can stay current on agronomy issues on the grounds of the Farm Read More
Soybean Field
LegislationOhio Soybean Association Names Brian Hill Legislator Of…
July 19, 2016
The Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) has announced that State Representative Brian Hill (R-Zanesville) has been named one of two Legislators of Read More
Eric SfiligojThe Latest Monsanto Rumors: A Game Of Tones
July 18, 2016
When companies are engaged in the back-and-forth of the acquisition game, the tone of their various announcements is always important. Read More
Nozzle spray close-up
AdjuvantsWest Central Distribution Introduces New Elite Family O…
July 14, 2016
West Central Distribution recently released a new line of Elite adjuvants to work alongside the new herbicide technologies that combat Read More
Bayer sign
Crop InputsBayer Makes New Offer For Monsanto
July 14, 2016
Bayer AG boosted its takeover offer for Monsanto Co. to about $65 billion in a bid to overcome the U.S. Read More
ManagementAn Update on Water
July 14, 2016
CropLife Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Matthew Grassi discuss agricultural water issues in conjunction with a recent field trip in Ohio. Read More
Co-Alliance employee
EmployeesNew Purdue Program To Focus On Talent Management
July 14, 2016
Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business is starting a new professional development program to help food and agribusiness Read More
Industry NewsFMC Agricultural Solutions Appoints New Global Regulato…
July 14, 2016
FMC Corp. has named Andy Hedgecock as Global Regulatory Affairs Director for FMC Agricultural Solutions. He joins the company this Read More
Corn Field
Seed/BiotechWhat Can Inoculants Do For You?
July 13, 2016
When it comes to preventing disease and promoting growth in your plants, who couldn’t use a helping hand? By forming Read More
Microbes
Seed/BiotechMighty Farming Microbes: Companies Harness Bacteria To …
July 13, 2016
What if farmers, instead of picking up some agricultural chemicals at their local dealer, picked up a load of agricultural Read More