23rd April, 2019
When it comes to agriculture across the globe the name of the game is production, and global grain markets are definitely being driven by the production side of the equation at the present time.
The northern hemisphere wheat crop is looking good on the whole. There are always pockets here and there that are too dry, too wet, too hot or too dry, but the good areas tend to make up for the bad ones and the really good areas much more than makeup for the poor ones.
At the moment the crop is getting bigger rather than smaller. That said, we all know it can all turn around very quickly, and it is still far too early to call the crop “made”, or otherwise. The one thing that really counts for wheat is adequate moisture during the grain fill stage, and in the northern hemisphere that generally does not occur in the month of April.
The critical grain fill stage for the European wheat crop is usually June & July, in Russia it is July and August, and in the United States (US) the hard red winter (HRW) crop is commonly made in May, and the soft red winter (SRW) is traditionally made in June.
If there is an issue in the US, it is the slow pace of the spring wheat planting program due to too much rain and wet paddocks. Last week the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the crop was 2 per cent planted against an average of 13 per cent for the date. However, with much warmer weather on the way, no one seems to believe that there is a danger of not getting most of the intended acres in the ground.
The USDA reported that the winter wheat crop was 6 per cent headed versus 9 per cent average, and the crop rated 60% good to excellent versus 60% last week. This is significantly better than the 31 per cent reported at the same time last year and is the best rating in the last 5 years.
Winter crops across most regions of Europe have benefited from the predominantly mild weather conditions and are advanced in their stage of development. The crop is said to be in good shape and production is expected to be significantly higher than last year. Almost every state is currently forecasting yields at or above the five year average with the exceptions being Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece.
In Germany, the country’s association of farm cooperatives (DRV) have forecast wheat production at 24.4 million metric tonnes (MMT). The is an increase of almost 21 per cent compared to last year’s drought-reduced harvest of only 20.3MMT.
Government agency FranceAgriMer estimates that 81 per cent of the French soft wheat crop is in good to excellent condition, down slightly from 83 per cent last week. They also have the good to excellent condition rating of both the winter and spring barley crops down two percentage points week-on-week to 77 per cent and 89 per cent respectively. All ratings are well above the same week last year.
The accuracy and credibility of Russian forecasts and estimates are always quite problematic and none more so than last week. Moscow based agricultural consultancy firm IKAR released its latest 2019 Russian wheat crop estimate mid-week, raising it by 1MMT to 79MMT.
Within 24 hours, Russia’s oldest agricultural markets and consultancy company SovEcon had raised its Russian wheat crop forecast by more than 4 per cent from 80MMT to 83.4MMT. This was on the back of what is described as good conditions across a majority of the country’s cropping regions.
The SovEcon number is almost 12MMT higher than the current USDA forecast, and if it came to fruition, would be the second biggest Russian wheat crop on record, behind 2017. A crop of that size would mean at least 40MMT would be available for export and could even challenge the export record of 41.3MMT set in 2017.
In South America, summer crop estimates are definitely in bull mode with local scouts increasing the size of the Brazilian soybean crop by 1MMT to 116MMT. They have also increased the size of the Argentinian crop by the same amount to 56MMT.
The corn crops are heading in the same direction with Brazilian production estimates increasing by more than 3MMT to almost 98MMT, and in Argentina, the government is forecasting a corn crop as high as 55MMT. Some analysts are suggesting that the South American corn harvest will be 30MMT more than last year.
In China, there are rumours that the government may have sold down as much as 90 per cent of its reserve stocks of corn, and that temporary state reserves could be as low as 10MMT. This probably explains why there have been no reserve auctions of late.
This will be music to the ears of US exporters as the one thing that could change the burdensome US corn balance sheet at the moment is a substantial Chinese buying program to replenish reserves and attack the balance of payments deficit.
Back to wheat, where a rebound in northern hemisphere production, burdensome stocks in the US and relatively static year-on-year demand has turned it into a supply driven market where the bears definitely outnumber the bulls. The strengthening US dollar is also pressuring markets to the downside.
Global wheat values are unlikely to rally in the current environment unless there is a weather-driven problem in a major producer that severely impacts production, or prices get down to a level where the demand curve starts to rise again.
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