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As the geopolitical conflict between Russia and Ukraine comes back into focus following the attacks on port infrastructure in the Ukrainian Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and the terminals along the Danube River, wheat market volatility remains an ever-present risk.

Despite the recent swings, export basis trends can help provide clues to potential buying opportunities for U.S. wheat classes. In recent months, we have seen Pacific Northwest (PNW) hard red spring wheat (HRS) export basis erode from $1.75 per bushel ($64.30 per metric ton) in November 2022 to $0.80 ($29.40) in July 2023. Considering the recent drifts, this article will investigate the PNW HRS basis trend and provide additional context around the weakening basis.

A line chart showing export basis in dollars per bushel of wheat indicates basis has declined $1.75 per bushel since December 2022.

PNW HRS basis has drifted down since the start of 2023, recently hitting lows not seen since 2007, hovering 90 cents below last year’s level. Below average basis poses a unique opportunity for those interested in purchasing PNW HRS. Source: U.S. Wheat Associates Price Report.

Slow Demand Meets Seasonal Weakness

Otherwise known as the difference between the free on board (FOB) cash price and the futures price, export basis encompasses transportation costs, storage, and supply and demand at the regional level (e.g., farmer sales, local demand), and can fluctuate based on seasonality. In the pre-harvest months, basis generally weakens as the market looks to the influx of new crop stocks. Though a weaker basis is common for this period, unique to this year, the pace of farmer selling has remained slow. Throughout 2023, exporters noted low farmer sales, and USDA’s June Grain Stocks report noted on-farm stocks increased 34% from the year prior. In the last few weeks, farmer sales increased with the increased volume helping drive down basis.

Meanwhile, demand for U.S. wheat has also been relatively light. In 2022/23, commercial U.S. wheat sales were 20.7 MMT, down 4% from the year prior. So far in 2023/24, the U.S. export pace remains slow, tracking 32% behind last year at the same time.

The combined impact of seasonal weakness, the release of farmer-held stocks, and slow export demand have quickly eroded basis. Last week’s basis level of $0.75 ($27.56) signifies the weakest PNW HRS basis since July 2007. For this time of year, the current basis level is 51% below the ten-year average and down 90 cents per bushel from last year. The historically low basis level presents an opportunity for U.S. wheat importers to make purchases of HRS from the PNW or to lock in a low basis contract.

A line chart showing market volatility related to geopolitical tensions in the U.S. wheat futures markets and prices.

Wheat futures continue to fluctuate based on the global supply and demand situation and the erratic influences of geopolitics, weather. The most recent example is the response to the airstrikes in Ukraine last week. CBOT futures closed limit up at $7.57/bu; however, by the end of the week, CBOT futures were down 53 cents at $7.04/bu. Source: U.S. Wheat Associates Price Charting Tool.

With Proper Risk Management Opportunity Awaits

Despite the historically low basis, volatility presents a risk in the market. On July 24, Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures were limit up in response to the airstrikes in Ukraine, closing at $7.57/bu; however, by the end of the week, CBOT futures were down 53 cents at $7.04/bu.

Every marketing year presents new challenges and opportunities for buyers of U.S. wheat, and this year is no exception. Markets are volatile, but unique buying opportunities continue to arise. With proper risk mitigation, U.S. wheat importers can capitalize on opportunities for purchasing U.S. wheat and maximize the value of U.S. wheat classes, even in unpredictable times. Contact your local U.S. Wheat Associates office for more individualized information on risk mitigation strategies for your business and opportunities for U.S. wheat.

By U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford.

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News and Information from Around the Wheat Industry

Speaking of Wheat

“The big news in wheat was the hard red winter number — shock-and-awe for USDA to increase it that much. The average trade guess was 532 million bushels, so the number was way above what anybody anticipated. We had a broad-based increase in yields, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Big increases in Colorado and Nebraska with the rainfall. Montana yield up 5 bushels an acre, although that’s not yet certain, and then a little bit of an offset in South Dakota.” — Bill Lapp, founder and president of Advanced Economic Solutions in Omaha, Nebraska, as quoted in the World-Grain article “U.S. Winter Wheat Forecast Surprises Analysts.”  Read the full story here.

Russia Suggests Revival of Black Sea Grain Deal Dependent on ‘Improved Exports’

As Reuters and several other news organizations reported, a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine’s grain expired on July 17 after Russia quit and warned it could not guarantee the safety of ships. Russian officials suggested that if demands to improve exports of its own grain and fertilizer were met it would consider resurrecting the Black Sea agreement. However, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that a U.N. pact that aimed to help facilitate Russia’s shipments over the past year was also terminated. Read the full story here.

Climate and Violence Hobble Nigeria’s Push to Rely on its Own Wheat

The Associated Press published a story July 19 from Abuja, Nigeria revisiting the fact that Nigeria is trying to become self-sufficient. The government has launched programs to provide loans to farmers and boost domestic grain production. But extreme weather and violence from both gangs and farmers and cattle herders clashing over resources have hindered those efforts. It’s left Nigeria unable to produce enough wheat to bridge a gap in supply of more than 5 million metric tons. Read the full story here.

Nestle Investing in Wheat Supply Chain

In a July 19 article, World-Grain.com reported that Nestle USA, Inc. is investing in regenerative agriculture practices across its DiGiorno pizza brand supply chain in an effort to reduce the company’s overall carbon footprint.  The company’s investment will impact more than 100,000 acres of wheat-producing farmland. Nestle has partnerships with ADM and Ardent Mills, the two primary wheat flour suppliers for DiGiorno products, to support wheat farms in Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and Indiana.  Read the full story here.

Peters: Educational Efforts Build Relationships

In a July 17 interview with farm broadcaster Lorrie Boyer, U.S. Wheat Associates Board Chairman Michael Peters discussed U.S. Wheat’s upcoming work building export markets for wheat. He pointed out that, not surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges has been Russia. “Russia has still been shipping out a lot of wheat over this past year when they’ve shipped it out at a lot cheaper price than what we’re able to grow and produce it here in the U.S. So that has created some issues for us, with our overseas customers.” Listen to the Ag Information Network Report here.

Subscribe to USW Reports

USW publishes various reports and content available to subscribe to, including a bi-weekly newsletter highlighting recent Wheat Letter blog posts and wheat industry news, the weekly Price Report, and the weekly Harvest Report (available May to October). Subscribe here.

Follow USW Online

Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates, photos, and discussions of what is going on in the world of wheat. Also, find breaking news on Twitter, video stories on Vimeo and YouTube, and more on LinkedIn.

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News and Information from Around the Wheat Industry

Speaking of Wheat

The international [grain] price in Ukraine will be on the level of the cost of production. Harvested grains and oilseeds will be level of 62 million (tonnes), exports about 40 million. We have only three seaports operating at capacity and [under the ‘fragile agreement’ to ship grains and other commodities via the Black Sea] Russia uses every possibility… to complicate these exports. [Ukraine’s] intention is to ensure freedom of navigation to and from Ukrainian seaports.” — Taras Kachka, deputy minister for Development of Economy, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine, Trade Representative of Ukraine, from an article about the 2023 International Grains Council Conference by Chris Lyddon, World Grain.com. Read more here.

Russian Government Seeks Wheat Export Control

Bloomberg included an article June 29 suggesting “The Kremlin” is looking to exert greater control of Russian wheat production and trade. Reporter Aine Quinn wrote: “Russia’s growing market power is part of a broader effort. International traders such as Cargill Inc., left after facing pressure to clear the way for domestic companies. The changes put more control in domestic hands and could potentially make it easier for local companies to ship grains grown in occupied Ukrainian territory — and for Moscow to influence prices.” The article also suggested more government control of wheat would help it keep “the Global South on their side.” Read the article here.

Challenge from China on Black Sea Deal?

Agri-Pulse trade reporter Bill Tomson reported this week that China’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations has stated that the Black Sea Grain Initiative needs to be renewed this month. The article indicates that China is most concerned about supplies of corn to feed its massive swine herd according to Collin Watters, director of exports and logistics for the Illinois Corn Marketing Board. Read more about the politics of war and grain here. Russian officials on July 5 said a final decision on whether to extend the grain deal has not been made.

National Wheat Foundation Tour for Government Staff

On June 27, 2023, the National Wheat Foundation and Maryland wheat grower Eric Spates, hosted a wheat farm tour for congressional staff and USDA employees. The attendees had the opportunity to explore the farm, witness the wheat harvesting process, and listen to speakers who specialize in the agriculture industry. The discussions centered around crucial topics such as risk management, conservation, pesticide programs, and environmental issues. Read more about the tour here.

Welcoming New NAWG Government Relations Representative

The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) has hired Jack Long as the new Government Relations Representative. Long is a recent graduate from Oklahoma State University, where he received a Master’s in Agribusiness. Long is originally from Cole Camp, MO, and comes from a multigenerational farming operation. He has worked for Cornerstone Government Affairs and the Oklahoma State Senate, which provided him with a fundamental understanding of policy and current issues within the wheat industry. Read more here.

Communications Job in Montana

The state of Montana is accepting applications for the position of Marketing & Communications Director with the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee (MWBC), a state wheat commission member of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). This position is responsible for managing marketing and outreach activities, content development and communications efforts for the MWBC. Primary obligations include planning and implementation of domestic marketing and international trade efforts aimed at increasing purchases of Montana grown wheat and barley. Read more or to apply, visit Montana’s government website here.

Subscribe to USW Reports

USW publishes various reports and content available to subscribe to, including a bi-weekly newsletter highlighting recent Wheat Letter blog posts and wheat industry news, the weekly Price Report, and the weekly Harvest Report (available May to October). Subscribe here.

Follow USW Online

Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates, photos, and discussions of what is going on in the world of wheat. Also, find breaking news on Twitter, video stories on Vimeo and YouTube, and more on LinkedIn.

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The June USDA reports on Acreage and Stocks, released on June 30, 2023, made a significant splash on grain markets after an already volatile week. With no new fundamentals to trade, wheat prices found little insulation from movements in corn and soybean markets. From June 21 to June 30, Chicago Board of Trade corn futures were down $1.14 on the week and CBOT Soft Red Winter wheat (SRW) futures were down $1.06. Minneapolis Grain Exchange (MGEX) Hard Red Spring (HRS) and Kansas City Board of Trade (KBOT) Hard Red Winter (HRW) futures dropped 63 cents and 75 cents, respectively.

Before Friday’s USDA reports, dryness in the U.S. Midwest, particularly in the Corn Belt, wreaked havoc on wheat and corn markets as corn conditions hovered at their lowest rating since 1988. Meanwhile, instability in wheat markets persists with on-going news from the conflict in the Black Sea.

June Acreage Report

The Acreage Report estimated the total U.S. wheat planted area at 49.6 million acres (ma) or 20.1 million hectares (mh), up 9% from 2022 but 300,000 acres less than the March estimates. The 2023/24 planted area still represents the largest planted area since 2016/17. Little changed from the March estimates with the winter wheat area projected at 37.0 ma (14.9 mh), up 11% from last year. The most significant increase occurred in the SRW wheat area as it registered a 17% increase from the year prior.

As discussed in previous articles, high prices in the fall of 2022 incentivized farmers to plant additional acres, and the USDA reports confirms that shift. New to the June report, the HRS area was forecast at 10.5 ma (4.2 mh), which is up 5% from the March estimates and 5% from 2022. Meanwhile, durum is predicted at 1.48 ma (0.6 mh), down 200,000 acres from the March estimates and 9% below 2022/23.

More Corn Than Expected

 

Statistics from USDA shows the volume of corn planted and harvested in the United States and the large increase in 2023.

U.S. corn planted area is expected to take an unusually large jump in 2023 according to a new report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Corn and soybeans were arguably the largest surprise and the most significant contributor to Friday’s volatility. USDA forecast corn area at 94.1 ma (38.1 mh), which would be the third highest area on record, and is up from 88.6 ma (35.9 mh). The USDA NASS map at the top of this page shows an estimate of how many acres of corn are planted in each state and the percentage change from 2022. Soybean area was down 5% on the year and below trade estimates, coming in at 83.5 ma (33.8 mh).

The USDA estimates for the soybean area were nearly 5.0 MMT below the average trade estimates, sending a shockwave through commodity markets. The market reacts relative to how much the estimates deviate from the trade expectations. Source: Acreage, Grain Stocks, and Rice Stocks – Agricultural Statistics Board Briefing.

The impact of the USDA Acreage report released June 30 was bullish for soybeans, bearish for corn, and varied for wheat. That day, July 2023 CBOT SRW futures closed down 97 cents on the week at $6.36/bu. KCBT HRW futures were down 58 cents, at $8.01/bu. MGEX HRS futures were down 63 cents at $8.02/bu. CBOT corn futures were down 76 cents at $5.55/bu. CBOT soybean futures were up 63 cents, at $15.57/bu.

Quarterly Grains Stocks Report

The June Grain Stocks Report, published on June 30, USDA estimates that old crop wheat stocks are down 17% from 2022 at 15.8 MMT. On-farm stocks are 3.4 MMT, up 34% from 2022 but 22% below the five-year average. The larger on-farm stocks indicate that farmers hold a larger share of the wheat crop than years prior. Meanwhile, off-farm wheat stocks are down 25% at 12.4 MMT.

Key Takeaways

The week’s volatility and the impact of the reports demonstrate persistent risks in the current wheat market and the ever-present influence of the weather. As the crop year progresses, it is crucial to keep a watchful eye on corn and soybean markets, as fundamentals in these markets can have consequences on the wheat market. Likewise, as the harvest pace ramps up and more information about the new crop becomes available, markets will begin to price in the availability of the supply, anticipated demand, and quality of the year’s crop.

Line chart from USDA reports show the relationships between U.S. wheat, corn, and soybeans planted area over time.

USDA forecast corn area at 94.1 ma (38.1 mh), the third highest area on record, while the soybean area was down 5% on the year and below trade estimates, coming in at 83.5 ma (33.8 mh). The soybean area declined for the first time in three years. Corn and soybeans compete directly for space, so the sharp increase in corn plantings cut into the soybean area. Source: USDA Grains Stocks Report.

Stay current on the 2023 wheat harvest via the U.S. Wheat Associates Harvest Reports and market moving factors in the weekly Price Report.

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News and Information from Around the Wheat Industry

Speaking of Wheat

Without a trade agenda that also advances U.S. economic interests by addressing barriers to U.S. exports through free trade agreements, the United States will lose influence globally. Other countries welcome U.S. products and benefit from the two-way relationship that free trade agreements promote. The U.S. government’s trade policy should be comprehensive … strengthening our global economic presence through proactive policies that support our export competitive industries such as U.S. food and agriculture.” – Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, founder of AgTrade Strategies and former assistant USTR for agricultural affairs and commodity policy, in a story by Agri-Pulse Trade Reporter Bill Tomson.

President Peterson Looks at Wheat Export Opportunities

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Vince Peterson was in Montana this week for a meeting of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee. He was interviewed by local media about the current challenges to U.S. wheat exports and future opportunities. “We’re trying to work in that environment where we’re facing a lot of competition globally,” Peterson said. “But at the same time, the carrot is out there … We’re going to have nearly 10 billion people by 2050, we’re going to consume a billion tons of wheat globally, and we’re going to have to trade 350 million tons of that globally.” Read more here.

Drought Expansion

University of Illinois FarmDoc says as of middle June, much of the U.S. corn production region is either dry or in drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, raising the prospects of a serious drought like that which occurred in 2012. Typically, prices continue to rise in drought years and, as an alternative to corn as a feed grain, winter wheat’s weather market appears to have momentum. European analyst Strategie Grains mentioned wheat production is confirmed at low levels in Spain and North Africa, and drought is starting to take hold across northern Europe, affecting yield potentials.

This illustration shows a U.S. map with corn production and drought indicating 65% of corn production area is in drought as of June 20, 2023.

This illustration from government sources shows a U.S. map with corn production and drought indicating 64% of corn production area is in drought as of June 20, 2023.

EU Softening Toward Gene Editing?

Agri-Pulse reported this week that a European Commission draft proposal could lead to a loosening of regulations on new genetic engineering techniques like gene editing. A draft regulatory document leaked and posted online by advocacy group ARC2020 proposes a streamlined path for certain new genomic techniques, or NGTs. An official proposal is expected early next month. “To see the European Commission edging toward welcoming gene editing is just a great thing,” Matthias Berninger, Bayer Crop Protection’s senior vice president of public affairs, science and sustainability, told Agri-Pulse at the company’s Crop Science Innovation Summit in New York City. Read more here.

NAWG: Dam Removal Endangers U.S. Wheat Export Competitiveness

At a at a Congressional Western Caucus Forum on the Importance of Hydropower to Rural Communities, National Association of Wheat Growers Chandler Goule provided a wheat perspective on the importance of the river system and barging play in helping feed the world. “The Lower Snake River Dams are a critical infrastructure system required to move U.S.-grown wheat to high-value markets around the world,” said Chandler Goule. “More than 55 percent of all U.S. wheat exports move through the Snake River system by barge or rail. Specifically, 10 percent of wheat that is exported from the United States passes through the four locks and dams along the Lower Snake River. This corridor is the third-largest grain export corridor in the world and is the single largest corridor for U.S. wheat exports.” NAWG remains opposed to breaching the dams as the agricultural, clean energy, and transportation benefits from the lock and dam system are irreplaceable and will continue to advocate on behalf of wheat growers to maintain this vital infrastructure. Read more here.

Subscribe to USW Reports

USW publishes various reports and content available to subscribe to, including a bi-weekly newsletter highlighting recent Wheat Letter blog posts and wheat industry news, the weekly Price Report, and the weekly Harvest Report (available May to October). Subscribe here.

Follow USW Online

Visit our Facebook page for the latest updates, photos, and discussions of what is going on in the world of wheat. Also, find breaking news on Twitter, video stories on Vimeo and YouTube, and more on LinkedIn.

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Final export commitment data for marketing year (MY) 2022/23 that ended May 31 is now available, providing an overview of the year’s export and demand trends.

In this article, we will look back on the MY 2022/23 demand trends and current MY 2023/24 data to provide context for the year to come as the world wheat market conditions continue to recover from the year’s volatility.

Since the start of 2022/23, wheat prices and freight decreased, and currency markets stabilized following the steep price shock of Mr. Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Despite the improved conditions, volatility and its consequences still reverberate through the U.S. and global wheat markets.

MY 2022/23 Year End Commercial Sales

Even with the year’s price risk, when ordinary hard red winter wheat exported from the Gulf of Mexico averaged $10.70/MT FOB, Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan remained among the top U.S. wheat importers in 2022/23 and have consistently been among the leading importers over the last five years.

As U.S. wheat competitiveness began to improve early in calendar 2023, China entered the market, ultimately surpassing Taiwan to claim the number five spot as their purchases surged 38% above the year prior. Moreover, China became the world’s largest wheat importer with the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) putting Chinese wheat imports at a record 14.0 MMT.

Bar chart compares U.S. wheat sales to top 10 customers in marketing year 2022/23 to MY 2021/22 indicating Mexico, Philippines, Japan, South Korea were among the top importers.

Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea have been consistently among the top five U.S. wheat importers. In 2022/23, China became the world’s largest wheat importer, surpassing Taiwan to claim the fifth-place spot among U.S. wheat importers. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

Hard red winter (HRW) wheat sales were 32% behind 2021/22, a function of high prices driven by drought and exacerbated by the war risks. Hard red spring (HRS) sales were up 4% following the drought in 2021/22 that severely diminished the crop and put exports at their lowest level since 2008/09. Soft red winter (SRW) sales were nearly even with the year prior and 9% above the five-year average as SRW remained competitive on the global market. Following drought-stressed production in 2021/22, white wheat exports were up 35% at 4.5 MMT and tracking SRW trends. Durum sales were up 109% due to improved production increased sales to Algeria and the European Union.

Bar chart compares U.S. wheat by-class sales in marketing year 2023/24 to the same date in MY 2021/22.

Some classes saw improved export sales year-over-year despite an overall reduction in demand. HRW wheat sales were 32% behind 2021/22, HRS was up 4%, SRW was nearly even with the year prior, white wheat was up 35% and durum was up 109%. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

MY 2023/24 to Date

Demand has been relatively light so far in MY 2023/24 as many buyers delay purchasing decisions for more concrete information about the upcoming harvest and price fundamentals. Adding optimism for importers are recent rains in the U.S. Plains that have helped boost winter wheat crop ratings and rapid planting progress in HRS production areas.

Overall, U.S. wheat commercial sales are down 18% from last year’s pace at 3.9 MMT. Even so, customers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are ahead of their 2022/23 pace, and SRW commitments have surpassed last year’s level by 18% given its competitive price advantage.

USW Commercial Sales Report comparing export sales to specific countries in marketing year 2023/24.

Year-to-date marketing year 2023/24 commercial sales total 3.9 MMT, down 18% from the year prior. Meanwhile, purchases in Japan are 2% ahead of last year, South Korea up 5% and Taiwan up 75%. Vietnam, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru have also surpassed last year’s pace, highlighting how the market sentiment has shifted from a year ago. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

New 2023/24 Estimates

Meanwhile, the June WASDE released on June 9 reported significant increases in world production estimates and ending stocks; however, the increases were unsurprising, leaving futures prices little changed.

World wheat production increased 10.4 MMT from the May estimates to 800.2 MMT on improved output in Russia, India, and the EU. World consumption increased by 4.4 MMT to 796.1 MMT, accounting for increased feed use in China, Russia, and India. Ending stocks increased to 270.7 MMT due to large projected stocks in India, Russia, and the EU. The estimates were also subdued on the domestic front, raising production by 100,000 MT, and increasing ending stocks by 200,000 MT with no other changes to the U.S. balance sheet.

Keep Up To Date

Though it is still very early in MY 2023/24, analyzing past trends and the monthly supply and demand updates helps provide context to aid purchasing decisions. Compared to this time last year, many influences have turned to favor wheat importers, though the war in Ukraine and weather patterns throughout the global wheat growing region add underlying risk. With risk still ever present, information is vital for planning and executing purchases. You can stay current on the latest reports via the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Wheat Associates weekly Commercial Sales and Price Reports.

By U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

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The news that U.S. flour milling companies have imported European wheat has raised concerns and frustrations for U.S. wheat stakeholders. To an organization like U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) that with our state wheat commission members promotes exports on behalf of U.S. wheat farmers, such news is particularly disappointing. After all, U.S. farmers produce enough wheat each year to meet domestic demand and still offer about half the crop to export markets.

The concern is not about imported wheat per se. Flour millers do import varying amounts of Canadian spring wheat every year. And conditions have in the past made it possible for feed-grade wheat to be imported into coastal pork and poultry production markets. It is important to state that there is more than enough high-quality U.S. wheat available to produce all the flour we need in this country, and the 2023 harvest is already underway.

However, imported European wheat to produce domestic flour is a highly unusual situation. USW wanted to share what is behind these imports and perhaps answer the questions from stakeholders.

Dynamic market factors have created a large price spread between similar classes of European and U.S. wheat. In May 2023, according to AgriCensus data, the published FOB export price for Polish wheat was more than $107 per metric ton less than the U.S. hard red winter (HRW) Gulf FOB export price. German wheat export price in May showed a similar discount to Gulf HRW FOB.

In looking at this difference between the bargain purchase price in Europe versus the current U.S. domestic market replacement values, USW President Vince Peterson recently said that “this may be the biggest trade margin that I’ve ever heard of” in all his years in the grain trade.

Supply Shock

This remarkable difference in prices happened mainly because the relative volume of exportable wheat supplies in Eastern Europe has exploded this year. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine drastically curtailed Ukraine’s ability to export by vessel from its Black Sea ports, in turn sending war-distressed Ukrainian wheat and other commodities pouring across their land borders into Eastern European countries. That movement severely depressed local wheat prices, harming EU farmers and causing five EU countries to implement bans on imported Ukrainian grain staying within their countries. Russia’s record 2023 wheat crop and unfettered exports (now projected at 45 million metric tons (MMT), also a record) created more regional price pressure.

Even though the EU-27 is the world’s second largest wheat producer after China and second largest exporter after Russia, EU wheat imports increased by 6 MMT in the 2022/23 marketing year. Combined with the unprecedented disruption of regional grain movement, USDA estimates the EU’s ending wheat stocks will rise from 10.1 MMT in 2020/21 to 16.2 MMT in 2022/23. And USDA expects European wheat production to increase this year over 2022 even though there is dryness in western Europe.

Yet over the same 3 years, U.S. wheat supplies have gone in the opposite direction, especially supplies of HRW wheat. Drought has hurt total U.S. supplies for three years in a row, first reducing hard red spring and soft white crops. Then drought cut HRW production in 2021/22 and intensified in 2022/23, resulting in a high number of abandoned wheat fields and short overall production. U.S. exportable wheat supply concerns, combined with the disruptive news constantly flowing from the Black Sea conflict, are supply shocks that continue to support the surprisingly high gap between U.S. and EU wheat prices.

Ocean v. Rail Rates

Considering imported European wheat, the question must be asked about the difference in cost between bulk ocean freight rates from Europe to the United States and U.S. rail rates to move wheat to its flour mills. Comparing those rates today, U.S. rail tariffs and fuel charges to transport wheat are close to twice the ocean freight cost on a per-metric-ton basis.

Unfortunately, this transportation cost spread indicates that rail rates have been and continue to be a burden on the value of delivered wheat for domestic and export markets.

A 2020 study by USDA found that rail rates increased by 30% for wheat, 32% for corn, and 30% for soybeans from 2000 to 2014, and wheat rail tariff rates have increased by an additional 18% since 2014. Rising and unfair rail rates for wheat erode its competitiveness for domestic as well as overseas buyers.

That is why USW’s Transportation Working Group is focused on addressing uncompetitive wheat rail tariff rates to make sure that when global market conditions readjust – and they will – domestic rail rates for wheat do not diminish U.S. wheat’s value at home and abroad.

Image shows grain rail cars by a country elevator to illustrate USW comments to the Surface Transportation Board.

Rail rates have been and continue to be a burden on the value of delivered wheat for domestic and export markets.

An Unwanted Hit

Without doubt, the import of European wheat and the market factors that encouraged it are most unfortunate. As Kansas Wheat Vice President of Research and Operations Aaron Harries said, this situation is “another hit against our domestic farmers” who are battling drought, increased operating costs and other headwinds to produce high quality wheat that is more than sufficient to supply all U.S. flour mills and export demand.

USW and others in the industry believe the imported European wheat will likely move to coastal U.S. flour mills – in part because of the high rail rates milling companies would have to pay to transport it to interior mills.

The supply challenges in today’s global wheat market are likely to continue at least through the 2023 harvest. USW sincerely believes that absent the illegal and highly disruptive invasion of Ukraine, the price spread incentivizing U.S. imports would be much closer. Sadly, the conflict rages on.

Domestically, higher wheat prices also encourage increased production, seen in the significant increase in U.S. HRW planted area for the 2023 crop. Unfortunately, the devastating drought undercut that positive trend this year, but prices remain an incentive for U.S. farmers.

If there is a grace note to this situation, USW President Peterson points out that the price spread between EU wheat and U.S. HRW wheat has recently narrowed. The potential for recent rainfall in Northern Plains HRW and hard red spring production regions to push 2022/23 production higher than expected would help fill the price gap – and offers hope for a better outcome in 2023/24.

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As the 2023/24 marketing year begins, the market awaits the outlook for the new crop harvest. Despite early concerns anticipating wet conditions and late planting similar to the 2022 crop year, hard red spring (HRS) planting progress has surpassed expectations.

USDA NASS chart showing variable level of spring wheat planting as of June 1 for the years 2016 through 2022.

Though planting progress influences total production and yield, it is not predictive. Years with late planting can yield average crops, while rapid planting does not equate to good production potential. Factors such as soil moisture, weather, and disease pressure can significantly influence yield potential during crop development. Source: USDA NASS Data.

Rapid Planting Progress

Spring wheat farmers have made incredible planting progress after a historically snowy and cold winter delayed spring fieldwork in the Northern Plains. According to the USDA Crop Progress Report, as of June 4, 93% of the spring wheat was planted, up from 85% the week prior and even with the five-year average. In key HRS-producing states North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota, USDA estimates plantings at 88%, 92%, and 98% complete, respectively. Over the last several weeks, rainfall has benefited soil moisture, and more recently, dry weather paired with above-normal temperatures helped accelerate planting progress. Between May 21 and May 28, 45% of the spring wheat crop was planted.

USDA NASS line graph showing spring wheat planting progress by week from 2018 through current 2023 date.

After a long winter with historic snowfall in the Northern Plains, 2023 planting (red dotted line) started late. As temperatures warmed rapidly, progress accelerated from several weeks behind to even with the five-year average. Source: USDA NASS Data.

A Hopeful Forecast

As spring wheat planting winds down, emergence hovers near the five-year average. As of June 4, spring wheat was 76% emerged, above the five-year average of 74%. The forecast predicts scattered showers for North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana, a potential benefit to the newly planted HRS crop. Topsoil moisture in the top HRS producers remains good, with 72% boasting adequate to surplus moisture in North Dakota and 66% in Minnesota; meanwhile, drought removal is likely in much of Montana’s growing regions.

Map of precipitation in the United States the last week of May 2023 shows that wheat production regions including the Northern Plains have received sufficient rain to support planting progress and growth of the spring wheat crop.

Scattered showers have greatly benefited much of the U.S. wheat-growing regions, alleviating Montana’s drought and improving conditions in other key producing states. Source: USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin.

Looking Ahead

The current outlook for HRS remains positive, though continued optimism hinges upon the weather’s cooperation. Recent warm temperatures helped jumpstart planting and emergence, but additional moisture will be necessary to sustain the current confidence levels.

In addition to weather, the underlying impacts of the tight HRS balance sheet and lingering price volatility due to the war in Ukraine will continue to influence the market. As the 2023/24 marketing year continues additional information regarding the production outlook will become available.

To be released on July 12, the July Crop Production Report and the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates will include USDA’s first by-class wheat production estimates. Until then, you can stay updated with the latest crop conditions and harvest progress via the U.S. Wheat Associates weekly Harvest Report.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

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On May 12, USDA released its initial estimates for the 2023/24 marketing year (MY) year, providing the first glimpse into how the world wheat situation has shifted in response to political instability, inflation, climate variability, and the volatility seen in the last year. This article will examine key takeaways from the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) and the USDA Crop Production Report, and what it may mean for the 2023/24 crop year.

Global Outlook: A Focus on Weather

Despite recording record wheat production of 789.7 MMT, up 1.5 MMT from 2022/23, world wheat supplies have tightened. Consumption surpasses production by 2.0 MMT for the fourth consecutive year, leading to a decline in global ending stocks. Projections indicate the lowest global ending stocks in eight years at 264.3 MMT. Ending stocks in the five non-Black Sea exporting countries (U.S., Canada, Australia, Argentina, and the EU) have hit their lowest level since 2007/08 at 38.2 MMT.

Production in major exporting countries is also forecast to be down 10.0 MMT to 367.6 MMT from a record 377.5 MMT in 2022/23. Production is predicted to increase in Argentina (+7.0 MMT), Canada (+3.2 MMT), and the EU (+4.7 MMT). However, these increases do not offset flat production in the U.S. (+0.3MMT) and reductions for Ukraine (-4.4 MMT), Russia (-10.5 MMT), and Australia (-10.0 MMT).

Weather poses risks to many production regions, including anticipated dryness in Australia associated with an El Niño weather event and reports of dryness in Canada. USDA predicts improved production in Argentina that hinges on recovery from the 2022/23 drought there. With ending stocks already hovering at 15-year lows, any change in production in major exporting countries could have a direct influence on world wheat prices.

A bar chart from the International Grains Commission (IGC) shows change in wheat production in major exporting countries by year over year and change compared to the 5-year average production.

2023/24 Major Exporter Production Change. With significant production reductions anticipated in Ukraine, Russia, and Australia, any change in the outlook for other major exporters will impact the already tight ending stocks held by exporters. Source: IGC.

U.S. Situation- Bullish Supply Meets Bearish Demand

Much like production in other major exporting countries, the weather has driven the U.S. wheat harvest conversation. As the drought in the U.S. Southern Plains persists, the May 12 USDA crop production figures put Kansas HRW production at 14.0 MMT, the lowest output since 1957/58. Similarly, USDA projections put Kansas (the largest HRW-producing state) wheat production at 181.0 million bushels. The annual Wheat Quality Council (WQC) winter wheat tour confirmed this outlook.

Despite the bullish outlook from the May Crop Production report and the subsequent futures rally, HRW futures prices declined, losing 73 cents in the week ending May 22. Likewise, hard red spring (HRS) and soft red winter (SRW) also softened, down 64 and 55 cents respectively from last week. A key factor contributing to this bearish trend is demand rationing in the face of high prices and seasonal pressures.

Bar chart showing U.S. wheat export sales by class, year-to-date as of May 11, 2023. HRW sales are significantly lower than 2021 at this date.

U.S. HRW commitments as of May 11, 2023, are 32% behind last year’s pace at 5.1 MMT. Meanwhile, HRS sales are up 4% at 5.7 MMT, white wheat is up 39% at 4.7 MMT, SRW is up 1% at 2.9 MMT, and durum has increased 131% to 452,000 MT. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report.

Bright Spots

Despite the complexity of the HRW situation, the outlook for other U.S. wheat classes, especially soft wheat classes, remains optimistic. The Crop Production Report put SRW estimates at 11.0 MMT, a 21% increase from 2022/23, and prices for SW and SRW continue to trend lower to remain competitive with other origins. Likewise, as of the May 21 Crop Progress Report, the winter wheat conditions have begun to see improvement, with a season-high of 31% ranking good to excellent. Spring wheat farmers have also made tremendous planting progress, with a 24% increase in plantings over the week, reaching 64% planted, only 9% behind the five-year average, alleviating concerns about late planting.

A More Detailed Look to Come

In the coming weeks I will recap the 2022/23 U.S. wheat export trends and highlight what to watch as new crop sales increase. In June, USDA will begin revising its initial estimates for the 2023/24 world supply and demand and the July WASDE will provide the first by-class wheat projections for the 2023/24 crop year.

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As expected, the results of the 2023 Hard Winter Wheat Tour the week of May 15 confirmed the extremely short wheat crop in Kansas and surrounding states. Typically, the market reaction would be bullish. But 2023 is not a typical year, and the volatile uncertainty of the Black Sea conflict once again overshadowed basic supply and demand factors.

After following six routes throughout central and western Kansas, far southern Nebraska and far northern Oklahoma, for three days, the average calculated yield average for fields that will be harvested was 30 bushels per acre (bu/a). Kansas Wheat reported that the official tour projection for total wheat production in Kansas is 178 million bushels (4.85 million metric tons) compared to the 5-year average of 303 million bushels.

In spite of that bullish news, the latest extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative pushed markets down. From May 15 through the end of the tour May 18, the HRW July futures contract lost $0.41. July hard red spring futures lost $0.45 and July soft red winter was down $0.49.

Reuters Photo showing farmer Gary Millershaski examining a stand of drought-stressed wheat during the 2023 Wheat Quality Council 2023 Hard Winter Wheat Tour.

Gary Millershaski, a farmer and scout on the Wheat Quality Council’s Kansas wheat tour, inspects winter wheat stunted by drought near Syracuse, Kan. Photo Copyright Reuters.

People Wanted to See This Crop

The annual Wheat Quality Council (WQC) winter wheat tour always attracts the market’s attention, this year even more so. More than 100 hard red winter wheat crop stakeholders participated, up from about 80 “scouts” in 2022, perhaps to see for themselves just how bad the crop is in the country’s leading hard red winter (HRW) wheat producing state.

“There’s just a general increase in interest this year,” WQC Executive Director Dave Green said to Progressive Farmer/DTN before the tour. “A lot of the big [milling and wheat food] companies want to have people on the ground and not just hear about it from someone else. People want to see this crop.”

Based on May 1 data, USDA estimated total 2023 U.S. HRW production at its lowest level since 1957/58. That includes USDA’s estimated average of 29 bu/a in Kansas. In fact, the wheat tour estimated average yield at 29.8 bu/a on Day 1 and 27.5 bu/a on Day 2 in the hard-hit western region.

Abandonment X-Factor

Wheat tour scouts were instructed to only calculate yield estimates for fields that have the potential to be harvested for grain, and not to calculate yields for abandoned fields. Kansas Wheat CEO Justin Gilpin noted that the 178 million bushel Kansas production estimate is a compilation from field evaluations throughout all 3 days on the tour, individual estimates of abandonment, and potential from this point until harvest. Estimates from scout estimates are pooled and averaged and that is the final production number that the WQC Tour issues at the end of the tour.

USDA NASS on May one estimated Kansas wheat production at 181 million bushels in its May Wheat Outlook. Assessing abandonment, it pegged the harvested-to-planted ratios for Kansas at 81% compared to a long-term average of 93%. Including Oklahoma at 47% (with an average yield potential of 23 bu/a), Texas at 30%, and Colorado at 73%, all are historically low.

Kansas Wheat pointed out that the wheat tour captures a moment in time for fields across the state that are still 3 to 6 weeks from harvest. The WQC coordinates this effort by breeders, producers, and processors to improve wheat and flour quality. The primary goals of the tour are to make connections within the wheat industry, allow participants to meet wheat farmers and see the growing crop, and to highlight the agriculture industry.

Photo at the top of this page from Twitter shows a field near Haven, Kan., with an estimated yield potential of 10 b/ac. Photo Copyright, Corbin Catt/Catt & Crew Farms. See more photos and other information by searching #wheattour23.