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Big moves waiting for May 2022 WASDE

Getty/iStockphoto Corn and soybeans
New marketing year production and usage data to trigger price action for new crop futures while old crop stocks to tighten.

On Thursday, USDA releases one of its most consequential World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates reports of the year: the first look at 2022/23 marketing year global production, supply and demand forecasts. These are the fundamental figures that will largely dictate pricing for 2022 crops over the next year and a half or so.

There will be a lot of fundamental information to unpack in Thursday’s report. I’m highlighting a few of the key issues below. Join us on Thursday, May 12 as our team provides live coverage of the report release and real-time analysis. USDA releases the May 2022 WASDE at 11 a.m. CDT – check out www.farmfutures.com or www.twitter.com/farmfutures for the most current insights!

Several of our contributors have also written fantastic preview pieces about Thursday’s USDA reports over the past couple weeks. I’d be remiss if I did not say these articles aided my own research and I would like to encourage readers to check them out!

New crop production

2022-23 US Crop production

Let’s be clear – these are not the calculations that will move markets on Thursday. The corn and soybean figures are a combination of March 31 Prospective Plantings and trendline yield forecasts issued at the February 2022 USDA Ag Outlook Forum.

So this information is already widely known by the markets. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will update acreage in its June 30 Acreage Report and the first estimate of 2022 yields will be released in the August 2022 WASDE. But we will get some further guidance on 2022 wheat production in Thursday’s Crop Production report from NASS released in conjunction with the WASDE report.

US 2022-23 Wheat production

To be sure, it is still premature to be estimating final U.S. wheat yields. But based on the turbulent spring this crop has endured, these pre-report estimates could be on the optimistic side.

Even the lowest trade guess for total production aligns with 2021 production volumes, despite a 2% increase in total wheat acres from 2021. Planting progress on the spring wheat crop in North Dakota and Minnesota is well behind historical paces and the winter wheat crop is currently competing with 1996 and 1989 as one of the most stressed crops the U.S. has grown over the past 36 years.

Old crop usage – U.S.

US 2021-22 Ending Stocks

Old crop corn and soybean usage are both expected to increase (by approximately 28 million bushels for corn and 35 million bushels for soybeans), which will further tighten old crop ending stocks in Thursday’s report. Corn exporting paces are not showing signs of increasing, especially with China’s ongoing COVID lockdowns slowing economic growth. Marketing-year-to-date corn consumption for ethanol through March 2022 is nearly 10% higher than a year ago, so I expect corn’s usage gains will come primarily from ethanol adjustments.

I’m less certain about which category USDA will increase for domestic soybean usage. Marketing year-to-date crush volumes are barely 1% higher than the same time a year ago. But exporting paces – particularly to China – have been unseasonably high over the past two months amid Brazilian crop shortfalls.

For example – over the last nine weeks, soybean shipping volumes are 73% higher than a year ago. Purchases from China have made up 43% of that total during that period. The short Brazilian soybean crop is the main force driving Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans higher – starting in February, U.S. soybean volumes shipped to China have nearly tripled (2.8x) year-ago volumes.

Wheat stocks are likely to increase (a bearish price signal) as high wheat prices and a soaring dollar have largely kept U.S. wheat supplies uncompetitive on the global market. Weekly export volumes are 24% lower than a year ago with only a handful of weeks remaining in the 2021/22 marketing year. High prices and drought in the Plains mean that wheat is not an affordable feed substitute for livestock currently.

Wheat’s only hope of bullish price action will come from domestic human consumption. January through March 2022 (Q3 2022) wheat flour milling data came in at 230.3 million bushels – a 2.6% increase from Q3 2021 volumes. USDA has lowered the food wheat usage metric by 4 million bushels over the past year to its current level of 959 million bushels, so any potential gains in this category will be slight.

New crop usage – U.S.

US 2022-23 Ending Stocks

At first glance, the ending stocks suggest tighter corn and wheat stocks next year. Smaller corn acreage and a potential wheat yield shortfall will be the key contributors here. But there is certainly more to say about corn than wheat, by my estimations.

My redneck math puts feed and residual usage largely unchanged for corn, though I expect if we do start to see cattle market expansion it will come late next year. I think ethanol production could increase higher than the 5.4 billion bushels currently forecasted in USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum estimates. Current year estimates are butting up against the 5.4 billion benchmark and the bullish winds stimulating biofuel expansion are likely not going away anytime soon.

The black horse for 2022/23 U.S. corn usage will undoubtedly be export volumes. A smaller crop will certainly limit available exportable supplies. But with Ukrainian supplies inaccessible or dwindling through the 2022/23, I expect the U.S. will continue to be the global supplier of choice for corn buyers – especially if USDA issues further reductions to South American corn crops grown during the 2021/22 year.

Corn stocks are going to continue being tight thanks to robust ethanol and export usage rates for corn. Though the current trade estimates vary wildly, the average ending stocks guess (1.352B bu.) suggests a stocks-to-use ratio of 9.0% for 2022/23 corn supplies, with would be the ninth tightest on record if realized.

Domestic wheat consumption for human food is historically steady. As I mentioned earlier, high wheat costs and herd contraction in the Plains will likely keep an excessive amount of wheat from being fed to livestock in 2022/23, especially since the cattle market is not likely to expand until late 2023.

And I expect high freight costs and wheat prices to continue to keep U.S. wheat less competitive against other global exporters in 2022/23. I’d be happy to be wrong on this issue, but until we see U.S. export paces pick up over the next couple months, I’m going to continue to be skeptical about the prospects for the U.S. wheat export market. Until that time, expect supply shortfalls to be the primary price driver for the wheat market in 2022/23.

U.S. soybean production is expected to boom to new records thanks to record-high acreage expected to be planted this spring. And domestic and global soybean end users are primed to take full advantage of the supply influx.

With more soybean processing capacity slated to come online over the coming year, domestic usage will put up some stiff competition against soybean exporters eager to sink their teeth into a robust American soybean crop this coming fall. But tight global edible oil supplies mean that even if Chinese export demand lags in the second half of 2022, there are still plenty of global buyers eager for U.S. soyoil supplies.

Ultimately, that will put U.S. soybean ending stocks for the 2022/23 season at the highest level since 2019/20. Trade estimates suggest that the 2022/23 soybean STU ratio will settle around 6.9%, ending the 2022/23 marketing campaign with the 19th tightest soybean supply on record, up from the 13th place finish currently expected for 2021/22.

In short, soybean stocks will have more room to breathe relative to the past two years. But demand is likely increasing just as rapidly as the prospects for a record soybean crop and will put any extra acreage to good use.

South American production

2021-22 South American corn and soybean production

Dry weather in Brazil over the past month has triggered concerns about the country’s second corn crop harvest, more commonly known as the safrinha crop. The safrinha crop accounts for the majority of Brazil’s annual export sales, so despite a favorable start to the crop’s growing cycle earlier this year, markets could see bullish price action in the corn market if USDA issues any yield downgrades to the 2021/22 Brazilian corn crop.

The trade is expecting cuts across the board for South American corn and soybean crops, which is likely based on recent USDA attaché reports from the region. Amplified soybean export paces in the U.S. over the past couple months suggests that USDA will scale back crop forecasts in Thursday’s report, which will play a big role in further tightening global corn and soybean stocks.

Old crop usage – global

2021-22 World Ending Stocks

I think South American corn and soybean production estimates will be the driving force behind any potential changes USDA may make to current marketing year ending stocks. Those changes are likely to be bullish because of the potential supply cuts anticipated by the trade.

Chinese grain and oilseed demand will also be closely evaluated in this space. Specifically, the impacts of current lockdown measures on economic growth and consumer eating preferences will play a big role in any changes USDA makes in its forecasts for China.

We are rapidly moving into a market environment where crop timing matters, so I think old crop grain futures stand to benefit from these cuts more than new crop futures. Keep an eye on those price differences after the report’s release.

New crop usage – global

World Ending Stocks

THIS! This is the section of WASDE that markets have been dying for more insights on since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. And there will be a lot to unpack from this data!

First, USDA’s forecast for Black Sea trade flows will likely be one of the most significant price movers of Thursday’s reports. Ukraine is struggling to unload 2021 corn stocks and is likely to plant more small grains readily accessible for human consumption during the current growing season than exportable grain crops as the Russian war continues to linger.

So I am expected Ukraine to take a muted role in the global grains trade in the coming year. The May 2022 WASDE will show who will step into supplier roles (the European Union, Australia, Canada) and who will scale back food consumption (North African and Middle Eastern countries) in response to the shifting Black Sea market dynamics.

Second, this will be the first long-term look at impacts of Russian sanctions on global trade flows. Russia is slated to harvest a record wheat crop this summer. I am in the camp that believes Russia is going to find a way to sell its crop regardless of banking sanctions (my conspiracy theory is that Russia will become a primary grains provider to China), but I’m curious to see who USDA thinks will be buying it.

Third, we cannot underestimate the impact that Chinese imports, production, and consumption have on global grain and oilseed pricing and availability. The efficacy of China’s COVID vaccinations has been significantly lower than Western vaccines (i.e. Sinovax only had a 55% efficacy rate against COVID at its inception while Pfizer’s efficacy rate was 95%) leaving the country at higher risk of rampant virus outbreaks.

That has been the driving factor behind China’s strict COVID lockdowns recently. The lockdowns have closed factories and delayed port activity, which means slower economic growth is likely in the cards for China this year, especially if another virus outbreak takes hold later this fall and the government doubles down on its zero-COVID stance.

The biggest sign that zero-COVID will directly impact U.S. growers? China’s soy import volumes. China is planning on expanding soybean acreage this spring. But a struggling winter wheat crop and fewer corn acres could mean that China could remain reliant on global grain and oilseed imports for another year.

Fourth, crop inputs are more expensive and more difficult to source. While most growers in the Northern Hemisphere have adequate fertilizer and input supplies for their 2022 crops, growers in the Southern Hemisphere could scale back production gains in 2022/23 if fertilizers are inaccessible or unaffordable in the next six months.                                                                                                                    

This is likely a more viable concern for 2023/24 grain and oilseed production as commodity prices are currently high enough to support 2022/23 crop production estimates. However, the surge of input prices is a dangerous omen in a world where food and feed demand is rising faster and more consistently than production gains. It will undoubtedly have an increased impact on food pricing and availability as the 2022/23 marketing year progresses.

There will be a lot of dynamics to watch in Thursday’s reports. I’ve been tracking recent USDA attaché and other market reports released over the last month that could show up in Thursday’s estimates as well as potential market implications. My cheat sheet on those fun facts is compiled below if you are interested – I expect many of these issues will prove to be talking points for digesting Thursday’s results.

Good luck!

Source: Country: Commodity: 2022/23 crop stats: Market Implications: Price Signals:
USDA Attaché  Canada Grains (wheat) Grain production to increase 30% from last year thanks to higher spring wheat, durum, and oats sowings. Easing drought conditions will allow Canadian livestock producers to scale back U.S. corn purchases (+330% annually). This is not great news for U.S. corn exporters, but good news for Canadian wheat and livestock producers. Bearish
USDA Attaché  Australia Wheat 1.07B bushel wheat crop (1.33B bu. in 21/22) High input costs will hinder yields. While it will still be a big crop, it will be smaller than 21/22 record crops. Lower 22/23 Australian wheat exports are expected, which is bullish for wheat prices. Bullish-Neutral
USDA Attaché  Argentina Soybeans 42M ac. to be planted this fall for a 1.87B bu. soy crop. (1.51B bu. in 21/22) Farmers are growing fewer cereal crops due to higher input costs and doubling down on oilseed production. Bearish
USDA Attaché  Argentina Wheat Exports down to 463M bu (533M bu. in 21/22) Smaller acreage and lower productivity, likely due to rising input costs and competitve oilseed prices. Bullish
USDA Attaché  Argentina Corn Exports up to 1.50B bu (1.54B bu in 21/22) It will be the second largest corn export volume for Argentina, following last year's record highs. Bullish-Neutral
USDA Attaché  Brazil Soybeans 105M ac. to be planted this fall (+4% YOY) for a 5.11B bu soy crop (4.59B bu in 21/22) Assumes return to "normal" weather forecast - see ya, La Nina! Fertilizer supply could limit expansion. Exports will likley rebound to 3.20B bu in 22/23 (2.83B bu in 21/22). Bearish
USDA Attaché  Brazil Corn 55.6M ac to be planted in 22/23 (53M ac in 21/22) for a 4.65B bu corn crop (4.57B bu in 21/22) Climate and fertilizer availability will play a major factor in potetial expansion. Bearish
USDA Attaché  Brazil Wheat 8.4M ac to be planted in 22/23 for a 331M bu wheat crop (283M bu in 21/22) Expansion based on rising wheat prices, but potentially limited by fertilizer availability. Bullish
USDA Attaché  India Wheat 76.4M ac planted in 22/23 (76.8M ac in 21/22) for a 4.04B bu wheat crop (4.03B bu in 21/22) Yield growth is primary expansion driver. Another record export season is expected in 22/23 for India amid competitive prices & availability. Hot and dry weather has plagued the Indian wheat crop since this report was released, suggesting export volumes may not be as readily available in 22/23. Bearish-neutral, depending on recent drought stress
USDA Attaché  Canada Canola Canada's oilseed production (canola, soy, & sunflower) to increase 35% from 21/22.  Global edible oil demand is strong & Canadian crush capacity is expanding (6 new plants/expansions this year). Canadian crush capacity of 11MMT last year will rise to 17MMT by 2025. Saskatchewan & Alberta are still dry, so output will be dependent upon drought ratings. Canadian canola acreage down 7% to 20.9M ac on rising input costs and competitve soy & sunflower margins. Bullish for canola, potentially bearish for soy & sunflowers
USDA Attaché  China Corn Imports at 787M bu. (906M bu in 21/22) Overall feed demand to decline 2% on higher prices. China's hog herd is expected to continue contracting, though corn feed use is up 2.8% YOY. Soybean production will push out corn, wheat, & rice acreage. Less feed wheat consumption as millers return to normal corn volumes for rations. Initially bearish, but some bullish opportunities possible later in MKT year
USDA Attaché  Egypt Wheat 8.3% annual reduction in wheat imports in 22/23, totalling 404M bu (441M bu in 21/22) World's largest wheat importer - heavily impacted by Black Sea conflict. Domestic wheat production up 9% this year. Stocks for its bread subsidy program are sufficient until the end of CY 2022.  Bearish
USDA Attaché  China Soybeans Record-high soybean imports expected in 22/23 - 3.67B bu (3.34B bu in 21/22) Rising feed demand and high prices for protein subsitutes will lead China to double down on soybean purchases. Lower 21/22 exports due to week demand and state reserve auctions. Record imports even with government-subsidized domestic soybean acreage expansion. Bullish
SovEcon Russia Wheat Production at 3.07B bu (2.76B bu in 21/22). Exports forecast at 1.51B bu (1.21B bu in 21/22) Record large crop expected thanks to favorable weather. Southern regions are experiencing dryness.  Bearish
SovEcon Ukraine Wheat 848.7M bu wheat harvested this year (1.21B bu in 21/22) Down 28% from last year's harvest. Eastern Ukraine, where Russia's military efforts are currently focused, is a hotbed for wheat production. Bullish
IKAR Russia Wheat Forecasts 3.21B bu for 22/23 (2.76B bu in 21/22) IKAR's forecasts are higher than SovEcon's. The 2022 crop could top 2020’s high of 3.14 billion bushels if conditions in Southern Russia do not significantly detract from other regions’ output this year. Bearish
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