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Views and opinions: Summer fun with August ag numbers

Ag Twitter had a big sandbox to play in after the USDA clobbered the agricultural futures markets August 12 with its number-filled Crop Report and World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

The updated numbers – planted acreage, estimated production, and projected usage – hit the market like a hailstorm. Corn futures snapped under the deluge of unforeseen acres and, honestly, unbelievably good yields. Corn finished the day down its permissible 25 cents per bushel limit.

And as if to prove 2019 will be the craziest ag year ever, live cattle and feeder cattle futures joined corn to close limit-down. Usually, when the price of feed – corn – falls, cattle prices climb. Not this year; in a rare move, all three took a punch in the face that day.

How rare is a simultaneous corn/fats/feeders limit down move? Extremely; in fact, many Twitter users noted that this was the first time they ever witnessed the bruising trifecta on the same day. In 38 years of market-watching, it was a first for me, too.

Other Twitter users took the smash-mouth reports with what little humor they had in reserve after an already physically exhausting, emotionally draining summer. For example, user @mccarty17 suggested the USDA send his 2019 trade mitigation payments to his commodity futures broker to cover that day’s trading losses.

“Hi trump please send my mfp payment to my margin clerk. Thx,” he tweeted. Clever, @mccarty17.

The bearish USDA reports didn’t start the corn market snowballing south, however; the carbon-loving Trump administration did that three days earlier. On late Friday, August 9, the EPA announced it had granted Big Oil refiners another 31 of 40 “hardship” exemptions to the ethanol-favoring Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.

In journalism parlance, releasing unflattering news late Friday afternoon is called “taking out the trash.” In short, you quietly throw out what’s certain to be taken as rotten news and hope no one smells it.

It never works; someone always catches a whiff. In the case of the ethanol waivers, everyone in Corn Country noticed and, brother, were they angry.

“At a time when ethanol plants in the Heartland are being mothballed and jobs are being lost,” wailed Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Assoc., “it is unfathomable and utterly reprehensible that the Trump administration would dole out more unwarranted waivers to prosperous petroleum refiners.”

Unfathomable? Utterly reprehensible? Unwarranted? Wow, nothing – not even a galactically out-of-bound presidential tweet or another corruption-dripping White House scandal – lights up Big Ag like a politician torching ethanol.

No need to remind Iowa Renewable Fuels Assoc. Executive Director Monte Shaw of that. Two months earlier, Shaw had happily witnessed President Donald Trump “take an ethanol-fueled victory lap” in Council Bluffs, Iowa, when the President announced EPA’s approval of year-around E15 (15 percent ethanol-to-gasoline blend) usage.

Sixty-one days later, however, Shaw sounded like a guy trying to reach the knife between his shoulder blades: “With this action, President Trump has destroyed over a billion gallons of biofuel demand and broken his promise to Iowa voters to protect the RFS.”

All of this arrived on the heels of a report from Beijing that noted a fast rise in the number of Chinese farmers growing – wait for it – soybeans, in Mother Russia. The data contained in the report suggested it’s not a fad but a smart, profitable move for China.

For example, according to the Beijing-based CX Daily, China uses 110 million metric tons of soybeans a year but grows only 16 million. Their main supplier, the United States, sold China just 16.6 million tons last year – about half of the usual amount – due to the tariff war between the former friends.

In Russia, however, Chinese farmers pay about $42.60 per hectare (2.471 acres), or about $17.25 per acre, in land rent – less than 1/10 of what it costs just across the border in China – to expand soybean production.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Is it September yet?


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Alan Guebert may write to him in care of this publication.