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.

Pages: 1 2

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Management Stories
ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And Then Some
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More
StewardshipA Multi-Layered Approach To Water Quality
October 6, 2014
Illinois event highlights research and technology designed to better monitor and improve water quality — and the benefits of cooperative, coordinated effort. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
ManagementRussia Bans U.S. And EU Ag Product Imports In Ukraine Sanctions Battle
August 7, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned the import of agricultural goods from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer Warehouse
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Move To Colorado Complete
January 20, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announces the opening of its new Agribusiness Division location in the Denver, CO, Metro Area. The new facility will host key personnel as the company shifts the base of its Agribusiness operations from California to Colorado. Read More
CropLife 100United Suppliers, McGregor Co., Five Others To Form Aligned Ag Distributors
January 20, 2015
These companies will continue to operate as independently owned and operated businesses, however, their crop protection divisions will now be formally aligned under the umbrella of Aligned Ag Distributors. Read More
CropLife 100Bozeman Named SEEDWAY Chief Operating Officer
January 16, 2015
He succeeds Donald Wertman, who will retire at the end of August 2015 after 40 years with the GROWMARK subsidiary. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis’ Craig Bair Honored For Safety Contributions To Ag Aviation
January 14, 2015
The William O. Marsh Safety Award recognizes significant achievements in safety, safety education or an outstanding operational safety program. Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Gearing Up For Another NASCAR Season
January 13, 2015
BRANDT will return for its fifth year as a primary sponsor of the No. 51 driven by Justin Allgaier in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Read More
Latest News
ManagementRetail Collaboration, Communicating Agriculture’s Good …
January 23, 2015
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfliligoj discuss the recent creation of Aligned Ag Distributors, and the US Farmers and Ranchers Read More
FertilizerOSU Expert: Toledo Water Crisis A Turning Point For Ohi…
January 23, 2015
The August 2014 water crisis in Toledo, OH, impacted Ohioans’ views of Lake Erie algae problems by increasing the attribution of blame of algae growth on agriculture. Read More
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launching TIGER XP
January 22, 2015
Tiger-Sul introduces this next generation sulphur-bentonite product with a proprietary activator – ensuring farmers have a well-balanced nutrient replacement program. Read More
Crop InputsH.J. Baker Expands China Sales Force
January 21, 2015
Global Agricultural firm H.J. Baker announced that sales veteran Shi Dongshen has joined their Shanghai office in China. This newest hire follows the recent opening of their Lianyungang Sulphur Bentonite Plant. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Partners With Northern Partners Coop On Fertilizer …
January 21, 2015
In addition, the two companies will form a joint venture to build and operate a grain barge loading facility that will handle corn, soybeans and wheat for export through the CHS terminal at Myrtle Grove, LA. Read More
Matt Hopkins5 Bold Predictions For Ag Retail In 2015
January 21, 2015
This past year was filled with ups and downs for the nation’s top ag retailers, but what will 2015 have in store? Read More
SoftwareDeere Launches App Center
January 20, 2015
The John Deere App Center provides users the ability to search and find apps most useful to their business or operations. Read More
Crop InputsNew Syngenta Herbicide Approved In Soybeans, Sunflowers
January 20, 2015
Syngenta will sell BroadAxe XC herbicide in 2015 for use on soybeans, sunflowers and dry peas Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Move To Colorado Complete
January 20, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co. announces the opening of its new Agribusiness Division location in the Denver, CO, Metro Area. The new facility will host key personnel as the company shifts the base of its Agribusiness operations from California to Colorado. Read More
Crop InputsNovozymes Sales Figures Up For 2014
January 20, 2015
Novozymes announces its sales growth in 2014 was in line with expectations as sales grew by 7% compared with 2013. Read More
CropLife 100United Suppliers, McGregor Co., Five Others To Form Ali…
January 20, 2015
These companies will continue to operate as independently owned and operated businesses, however, their crop protection divisions will now be formally aligned under the umbrella of Aligned Ag Distributors. Read More
Eric SfiligojGMO Or DNA? LOL Or WTF?
January 19, 2015
A new survey finds the American public seems generally confused when it comes to any three-letter descriptor for their food. Read More
FertilizerAGROTAIN Wins No-Till Product Of The Year Again
January 19, 2015
This marks the 10th straight year AGROTAIN nitrogen stabilizer has been named the top product in this category; no other product has matched this honor Read More
FertilizerTFI President To Give Update On Nutrient Management Eff…
January 19, 2015
The Fertilizer Institute President Chris Jahn will give the keynote address at the 2015 Ohio AgriBusiness Association Industry Conference February 4. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnderstanding The Role Of Seed Enhancers In Seed Treame…
January 17, 2015
Seed enhancers such as polymer play a key part in helping to improve germination, seed growth or accuracy of planting. Read More
Crop InputsUSDA Signs Off On Dicamba-Tolerant Trait In Cotton, Soy…
January 16, 2015
A registration decision by EPA for BASF's Engenia herbicide is anticipated to follow the dicamba-tolerant trait deregulation milestone. Read More
CropLife 100Bozeman Named SEEDWAY Chief Operating Officer
January 16, 2015
He succeeds Donald Wertman, who will retire at the end of August 2015 after 40 years with the GROWMARK subsidiary. Read More
Crop InputsDan Clinker Joins Monty’s Sales Team
January 16, 2015
Monty's Plant Food Co. has hired Dan Clinker as a Product Consultant and Sales Support Representative for the Central Ohio region. Read More