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A dramatic increase in demand for oilseeds could impact U.S. wheat production in coming years, with significantly more acres expected to be planted in soybeans destined for new and expanded crushing facilities.

Between 20 million and 25 million additional acres of soybeans will be needed to meet requirements of the renewable diesel industry, some analysts are predicting.

At the same time, global demand for wheat is also expected to rise, setting up dynamic competition for acreage in states where both crops are grown. For the U.S. wheat industry, the situation creates important questions: How much wheat acreage could potentially be lost to soybeans? Will lost acres impact the U.S.’ standing as the world’s most dependable wheat supplier? Can wheat and soybeans co-exist in a competitive environment?

This chart shows acreage planted in soybeans and wheat in 2022 in the country's top 10 soybean states, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This chart shows total acreage planted in soybeans and total acreage planted in wheat in the country’s top 10 soybean states in 2022, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Where possible, farmers may adapt and double-crop more wheat and soybeans to maintain supplies of both crops. It is already a common practice in top soybean states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, where soft red winter wheat is the dominant class. But in soybean states that produce hard red winter and hard red spring wheat – Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, for example – allotting acreage is more complicated due to average rainfall and shorter growing seasons.

The ultimate question is if U.S. farmers will be able to meet the demand for both wheat and soybeans by doing what they have always done – figure out a way to do more with less.

Many Options, Limited Acres

Mike Krueger, a grain industry consultant with Lida Communications, put a spotlight on the emerging “competition for acreage” during last month’s U.S. Wheat Associates World Staff Conference.

While describing volatility in global wheat and grain markets due uncertain market conditions, Krueger noted a more predictable factor that will affect markets and decisions made by U.S farmers.

“Renewable diesel is projected to increase eight-fold by 2030 and significant investments of more than $2 billion are being put into new and expanded soybean processing plants in the U.S. right now,” Krueger explained. “The U.S. soybean crush will expand by 10%, or more. We are talking vast numbers, and while sunflower and canola should be big beneficiaries of renewable diesel, soybeans are certainly going to be in even higher demand.”

A boost of 20 million acres would catapult soybean and go a long way toward meeting the projected oilseeds demand.

But at what cost?

The U.S. has consistently ranked as one of the top five wheat producing countries in the world and one of the top three wheat exporting countries. Would a major shift in acreage affect U.S. production, thus its place as a supplier?

“We must remember there’s also a global demand for wheat, as well as corn, and we have to consider ongoing drought and weather patterns, not to mention political conflicts that are impacting grain production and supplies all over the world,” Krueger said. “All of this, all the things going on that affect global trade, will put major emphasis on overall crop production in the U.S. and the entire Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, no crop can afford to give up or lose acres.”

Can Double-cropping Help?

Higher prices caused by global demand for wheat and soybeans appears to be motivating more farmers in the Midwest to consider seeding soft red winter wheat in the fall and soybeans in the same field following wheat harvest.

About 40% of producers responding to a Purdue University Ag Economy Barometer survey in June indicated they have utilized a wheat and soybean double-crop rotation in the past. About 28% of those producers planned to increase the amount of cropland devoted to this rotation by seeding more wheat this fall followed by soybean plantings on the same acres in spring 2023.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage over the past decade.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage and harvest over the past decade.

Ultimately, the biggest factor behind whether farmers begin growing an extra crop of wheat is what price they can get for the crop.

“The shift toward increasing soft red winter wheat acreage is likely the result of the expected profitability improvement of the wheat and double-crop soybean rotation,” James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, authors of the Purdue survey, noted.

A move by the federal government earlier this year to increase the number of counties eligible for double-cropping insurance was a move aimed at boosting U.S. production of wheat and soybeans by reducing the risk for farmers who decide to take the double-crop route.

Producers are well-aware that there are drawbacks to double-cropping wheat and soybeans.

“Compared to single-crop soybeans, double-crop soybeans have a shorter growing season due to the delay in planting until the wheat is harvested, which often result in reduced yields,” said Scott Gerlt, Chief Economist for the American Soybean Association (ASA). “Despite this drawback, double-cropping does allow increased production.”

Wheat Demand to Grow

Despite questions about acreage and production, U.S. wheat continues to be in demand by international customers because of its consistent quality and reliability.

Krueger expects the demand will continue to expand.

“A primary reason is that global wheat supplies are likely to shrink due to a renewed focus on soybeans, and to a lesser extent, corn,” Krueger said. “Another factor favoring U.S. producers involves shipping and logistics limitations that hamper competing wheat-growing countries, including Russia and Ukraine.”

Effects from a third consecutive La Nina would further pressure global supplies.

“These things will undoubtedly lead to more export demand for wheat,” Krueger said. “Can the U.S. meet the demand? That is the puzzle that’s still being put together. Farmers make decisions every single planting season. They only have so many acres to work with.”

 

 

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USW Vice Chair Michael Peter( left) with Sen. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoman (center) and Yi-Cheun "Tony" Shu, chair of the TFMA, after the Letter of Intent signing at the U.S. Capitol.

USW Vice Chair Michael Peters ( left) with Sen. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma (center) and Yi-Cheun “Tony” Shu, chair of the TFMA, after the Letter of Intent signing at the U.S. Capitol.

Representatives from the Taiwan Flour Millers Association (TFMA) signed a Letter of Intent September 14, 2022,  with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) to purchase 1.9 million metric tons – about 69.8 million bushels – of wheat from the U.S. over the next two years, a commitment with an estimated value of $576 million.

The signing, held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., was a much-anticipated stop for the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission, a team made up of Taiwanese government officials and representatives of some of the largest importers of U.S. grains. The group is led by Yi-Cheun “Tony” Shu, chair of the TFMA and of Formosa Oilseed Processing Co. Also participating is Dr. Ching-Cheng Huang, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture.

Taiwan is the 6th largest U.S. wheat export market and the 7th largest overseas market for U.S. agricultural products. Along with its intent to purchase U.S. wheat in 2023 and 2024, the team also signed Letters of Intent with the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and the U.S. Grains Council (USG) to purchase soybeans and corn. The total estimated commitment in the three letters total $3.2 billion.

Michael Peters, USW Vice Chairman, signed the TFMA Letter of Intent on behalf of the U.S. wheat industry.

“American farmers place great value on the relationship between U.S. agriculture and Taiwan,” Peters, a wheat producer and cattle rancher from Okarche, Oklahoma, said during the signing ceremony. “We pride ourselves as being dependable partners who grow the highest quality agriculture products in the world. The TFMA and its members have been great trading partners who fully recognize the value of purchasing U.S. wheat.”

Among U.S. officials on hand were Senators Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Representative Steven Chabot, R-Ohio, co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, was also present to witness the signing.

Following the visit to Washington, D.C., flour millers on the Mission headed west to get a first-hand look at U.S. wheat production and meet the people responsible for supplying high-quality wheat to Taiwan. The team is scheduled to visit wheat farmers in Kansas, Idaho and Oregon. Other scheduled stops also include the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center and the Port of Portland in Oregon.

USW also joined USSEC, USGC, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and the North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) in hosting a reception for the Mission team on September 13. The event provided leaders of the U.S. wheat and grain industry an opportunity to catch up with members of the Taiwan Goodwill Mission, which last visited the United States in 2019.

USW President Vince Peterson addresses those gathered for a reception welcoming the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission

USW President Vince Peterson addresses those gathered for a reception welcoming the 2022 Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission

USW President Vince Peterson addressed the gathering by pointing out the long and beneficial history of cooperation between Taiwan’s flour milling industry and the U.S. wheat industry that first opened a promotional office in Taipei 56 years ago.

“Our legacy organization Western Wheat Associates established a presence in Taiwan in 1966, so we are going on six decades of working with the country’s flour millers and food industry,” Peterson said. “In that time, Taiwan has purchased more than 45 million metric tons of U.S. wheat. This partnership between TFMA, U.S. Wheat Associates and U.S. wheat producers has been on a great path, and we plan to continue on that path in the future. We truly thank the Taiwan Goodwill Mission for coming to the United States and for its ongoing preference for U.S. wheat and other agricultural products.”

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Editor’s Note: On Aug. 31, USDA/FAS Administrator Daniel Whitley announced the following statement:

“As a result of unanticipated difficulties with the launch of the new Export Sales Reporting and Maintenance System, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service will temporarily revert to the legacy system while we work to fully resolve the issues with the new system. FAS will be unable to publish weekly export sales data on Thursday, Sept. 1 or Thursday, Sept. 8, but we expect to resume regular reporting on Thursday, Sept. 15.” Read more here.

Each week the USDA publishes weekly commercial export sales for various commodities, including wheat. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) collects data from U.S. exporters on  commodity quantity, type, class, the shipment marketing year, and the destination country. Exporters are also expected to report alterations to prior data such as order cancellations and changes in destination.

For the benefit of overseas wheat buyers, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) posts an updated Commercial Sales Report each week on the USW website, based on this USDA data. Each updated commercial sales report shows the top 20 markets for total U.S. wheat sales and a breakdown by wheat class and destination.

FGIS Inspector

U.S. wheat commercial sales data is generated and reported by the Federal Grain Inspection Service as its teams inspect wheat and other grains before vessel loading. USDA publishes the data on Thursdays on a week delay.

Disruption

Unfortunately, there was a disruption in the report last week. A new technical system was used to report export sales as usual on Thursday, Aug. 25. However, following the publication of the report, traders questioned the contents. The report was taken offline, and the contents were redacted. Reuters reported the redaction occurred after the commodities markets had already closed for the day.

In a statement, the government said it encountered “challenges that affected the physical dissemination of the export sales data as well as data quality.”

The Gold Standard

In explaining the report’s significance, Reuters stated, “the export sales report, which has a week-long delay, is a key indicator for traders, input suppliers and farmers as it highlights recent demand for crops such as corn, soybeans, and wheat at a time of tight global supplies. It calculates the sales of U.S. commodity goods to international customers such as China and Mexico.”

Commercial sales as a percentage of export forecasts can help exporters and buyers understand the supply and outline the general market for a given product. Highlighting the significance of the data reported, Reuters described the weekly commercial sales report as a “gold standard.” In fact, early U.S. wheat leaders fought through the battle of the “Great Grain Robbery” by the Soviet Union and advocated for more transparency and information from USDA to help farmers and their overseas customers that helped lead to weekly commercial sales reports in 1976. The USDA also forecasts annual commodity exports in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report.

USW Commercial Sales Charts

USDA Commercial Sales data 9above from Aug. 18, 2022) is needed to help understand market movements. USW expands and reports that data each week as it is released from USDA.

The USDA is addressing he technical issues now, and as of Aug. 30, the export reporting system was still down.

USW will continue to report commercial sales but only with data that we know to be accurate.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst