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US-China trade war is now a love fest…

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World grain markets trod water early last week ahead of Thursday’s release of the October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE). Ramifications of same were quickly forgotten after the announcement on Friday (Saturday morning Aussie time) of an interim trade pact between China and the United States (US).

US futures were a sea of red on Thursday following the release of the WASDE report, with CBOT wheat, corn and soybeans closing down 9 cents per bushel (c/bu), 14¼ c/bu and 1¼ c/bu respectively. That all turned around on Friday after news of the trade deal broke with wheat up 16 ½ c/bu, corn gaining 18 c/bu and soybeans up 10¾ c/bu.

The Friday action was predominantly fund buying as they scrambled to cover their shorts. They are reported to have purchased 40,000 contracts of corn, 15,000 contracts soybeans and 10,000 contracts of wheat. This equates to 5MMT, 2MMT and 1.4MMT of corn, soybeans and wheat respectively. Not bad for a day’s work!

Political pressure had been mounting for both leaders to reach a compromise after economic headwinds had struck both economies in recent months. It also came at a time when both leaders were trying to deflect attention away from domestic issues; impeachment for Trump and unrest in Hong Kong for Xi Jinping.

Trump had been holding out for a comprehensive deal that addressed a range of concerns around Beijing’s management of its economy. The Chinese negotiators were equally resilient, responding to US threats of increased tariffs with new measures of their own and refusing to include many of the US concerns in negotiations.

In the end, it seems that they have settled on an interim agreement that involves China buying more US agricultural products and undertaking several minor measures to open up its economy in exchange for the United States waiving the planned tariff increase set to take effect this week.

According to President Trump, the agreement was going to be great for both countries and was “a great deal for world peace. You know there was a lot of friction between the United States and China, and now it’s a love fest.”

He said that Beijing had agreed to buy $40-50 billion worth of US agricultural products which was a massive win for the US farmer. With the summer crop harvest ramping up in the US at the moment it will certainly be welcome news across the US corn belt, a key area for Trump in his run for re-election in 2020.

With the details of the pact yet to be inked, the biggest concern, for now, is how long the renewed affections will last and whether the deal will ever be consummated.

Meanwhile, there were a few surprises in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) October WASDE numbers compared to the previous month. The corn yield was raised slightly from 168.2 bushels per acre (bu/ac) to 168.4 bu/ac. It may have been quite a minor increase, but the trade was expecting a decrease of as much as 3 bu/ac. The USDA did cut the expected harvested area by 200,000 acres leading to a fall in US production of 0.5MMT.

Global production was decreased by 1 million metric tonne to 1.104MMT with non-China production decreasing by the same amount to 850MMT. Ending stocks were up in Brazil and Mexico and down in the US and Ukraine. The net effect was a fall of almost 4MMT in global and non-China ending stocks to 303MMT and 107MMT, respectively.

On the soybean front, the USDA reduced the expected harvested area by 300,000 acres to 76.5 million acres and cut the forecast yield from 47.9 bu/ac to 46.9 bu/ac. This led to a decrease in US production of 2.25MMT compared to the September estimate. Production in all other major production jurisdictions remained the same month-on-month resulting in a global number of 339MMT.

Soybean ending stocks were reduced in the US by almost 5MMT. This was partially offset by increases in both Argentina and Brazil culminating in a net fall of 4MMT to just over 95MMT globally.

World wheat production was virtually unchanged at 765MMT, but the numbers for several of the major producers are questionable. The USDA reduced the Australian crop by 1MMT but still have us pencilled in for 18MMT. The crop in Australia is suffering big time at the moment, and anything above 16MMT would be a miracle.

Argentinian wheat production was left unchanged at 20.5MMT. However, the season has taken a turn for the worst in many areas with drought conditions expected to have a significant impact on final yields. The provinces of Cordoba, La Pampa and the west and south of Buenos Aires province are in serious need of rain to arrest the decline.

The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange have reduced their production estimate from 21MMT to 19.8MMT and called the wheat crop 23 per cent good /excellent, against 30 per cent last week and 37 per cent last year. The Rosario Grain Exchange have also cut their estimate by 1.5MMT to 20MMT. However, private forecasters are saying wheat production could already be less than 19MMT.

The biggest swinger in the world wheat space could be Russia. The USDA left production unchanged at 72.5MMT, but Russia’s Agriculture Ministry put production at 75.6MMT with 1-1.5 million hectares still to harvest. That means that the early season forecasts of a 78MMT Russian wheat crop is highly possible.

This all means that the world wheat balance sheet is burdensome. Production is 30MMt higher than last year, projected global demand has fallen by 8MMT since the June WASDE report, forecast exports have dropped 6MMT over the same period, and world ending stocks are now expected to be 4MMT higher year-on-year. Competition from the major exporters is increasing, but world stocks continue to grow.

Wheat is lacking a significant demand driver at the moment, and the overall landscape is only likely to change if there is a significant weather event to disrupt supply or a political event that interrupts traditional trade flows.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

Mixed fortunes for Canadian farmers…

Mixed fortunes for Canadian farmers…

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The first official Canadian crop estimates for the 2019/20 crop year were released last Wednesday by Statistics Canada, the national statistical office. Surveys of more than 13,100 farmers were conducted between July 4 and August 5 and farmers were asked to report their estimated area, yield and production of grains, oilseeds and special crops.

Adverse seasonal conditions have been blamed for a fall in production of wheat, soybeans and corn with either wet and cold weather in the east, or hot and dry weather in the west, taking its toll on anticipated production.

Total wheat production is expected to fall by 2.9 per cent, or 950,000 metric tonne, to 31.25 million metric tonne (MMT) compared to the 2018/19 season. However, this still comes in at 880,000 metric tonne, or 2.9 per cent higher than the five-year average. The fall is on the back of a 1.1 per cent decline in harvested area and a 2.1 per cent decline in anticipated yield to 47.5 bushels per acre (3.19 metric tonne per hectare).

Breaking the total wheat number down, spring wheat production is expected to be the largest crop in six years, up 1.17MMT (4.9 per cent) to 25.11MMT. Countering that increase is a 23.1 per cent decline in Durum wheat production to 4.42MMT and a 31.4 per cent fall in winter wheat production to 1.72MMT.

At 18.45MMT, Canada’s canola production is expected to be the lowest in four years and 3.9 per cent below the five-year average. This is a fall of 9.3 per cent, or 1.89MMT, compared to last season and was almost 1MMT below trade expectations. The main contributor to this drop was an 8.2 per cent tumble in seeded acres as farmers reacted to the ongoing trade dispute with China.

In the row crop sector, soybean yields are expected to fall by 5.4 per cent to 40.2 bushels per acre (2.70 metric tonne per hectare). The harvest area is expected to decline by 9.7 per cent to 2.3 million hectares leading to a production decline of 14.6 per cent to around 6.2MMT.

An anticipated increase in the corn area of 1.5 million hectares will not be enough to counter a 4.1 per cent decrease in estimated yield. Final production is forecast at 13.6MMT, a year-on-year reduction of 2 per cent and the lowest in five years. The culprit was cold, wet weather across the major producing areas at seeding time leading to a delayed planting and poor germination.

The big winner out of the decreased canola area is barley, with Statistics Canada expecting a 12.8% increase in harvested area to 2.71 million hectares. At this stage in the season, barley yields are estimated to average 66.4 bushels per acre (3.57 metric tonne per hectare), 2.2 per cent higher than last season. The upshot is a substantial increase in production this season to 9.64MMT, the highest since 2013.

Oats is a minnow in the global cereal picture. Nonetheless, Canada is a significant producer. Production is forecast to increase to 3.95MMT based on a 15.2 per cent increase in the area expected to be carried through to harvest. The actual seeded area came in at 1.46 million hectares, but only 79.4 per cent of the crop will be harvested according to Statistics Canada, with the balance either grazed out or cut for hay and silage.

It has been a grim year for Canadian farmers, as canola exports bore the brunt of the trade stoush with China. Earlier this year China halted imports of Canadian canola, citing pests in some shipments. Canada is the number one producer and exporter of canola in the world. Since the turn of the century, China has grown from a relatively minor market for canola to the world’s biggest importer.

The importance of canola to Canadian agriculture has expanded significantly over this same period. In recent years, China has been the biggest buyer of Canadian seed, purchasing up to 40 per cent of the crop. According to Statistics Canada, canola production contributes more than $26 billion to the Canadian economy each year.

The wheat story is the complete opposite to canola, with Canada’s share of total Chinese imports increasing to more than 60 per cent in the 2018/19 season, compared to just 32 per cent in the previous twelve-month period. At 1.9MMT, the total export volume to China was almost double the previous season and the highest since the 2004/05 marketing year.

Fortunately, the spike in wheat sales is partially compensating producers for the lower canola sales with the export gains coming at the expense of the United States (US) and Australia. US wheat exports to China have plummeted over the last twelve months after China imposed a 25 per cent tariff on US wheat.

In Australia, the drought on the east coast last year led to a substantial decrease in the exportable surplus and pushed Australian values above export parity. This resulted in decreased exports overall and a reduction in Chinese market share.

The weather has traditionally been the most significant influence on global grain production. Farmers across the world accept that it will always play the lead role in their fight for sustainability and profitability.

However, we have now entered a new era of tariff and no-tariff trade barriers. These will continue to significantly impact traditional international grain trade flows as Canadian farmers have discovered to their chagrin in 2019.

Call your local Grain Brokers Australia representative on 1300 946 544 to discuss your grain marketing needs.

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