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With recent breaks in U.S. and global wheat futures and lower freight rates, the wheat market seems to have turned a corner to favor buyers after two years of volatility and risk.

Despite the improved general outlook, inflationary pressures persist, influencing macroeconomic conditions both in the U.S. and for our customers overseas. For example, major runups in the U.S. dollar in the second and third quarter of 2022 impeded wheat trade. Yet even with recent strengthening, the U.S. dollar index has decreased 7% from the highs hit in September 2022, providing some relief for wheat importers.

As world wheat importers are keenly aware, a strong dollar erodes the purchasing power of foreign currencies, making U.S. commodities more expensive to customers.

While the U.S. dollar index has decreased 7% from the highs hit in September 2022, though it remains elevated from pre-war levels, continued strength and fluctuations remain a concern for wheat importers. The U.S. dollar index measures the dollar’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, including the Euro, Pound, Yen, Canadian Dollar, Swedish Kroner, and Swiss Franc. Source: DTN ProphetX

The factors driving currency markets are often complex, but the recent dollar strength can be primarily attributed to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s reaction to the rising inflation triggered by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal Reserve Policy

The U.S. has faced inflation not seen since the 1980s, at an annualized inflation rate of 8.0% for 2022. To combat the inflationary pressures, the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) began an aggressive series of interest rate increases, bringing Federal Fund Rates from 0.2% per year in March 2022 to 4.57% annually by February 2023. The hawkish policy added strength to the dollar as investors earned higher returns, making the currency more attractive.

As interest rates have risen, U.S. inflation has since slipped to 6.0%, signaling that inflation may be easing. Current market sentiment and comments from Federal Reserve leadership indicate that though interest rates may still increase, a slower pace could also ease the strength of the U.S. dollar.

Global Reaction

In uncertain times, global investors often turn to the U.S. dollar as a haven currency, generating greater demand for a currency already supported by the Federal Reserve’s hawkish policy. As fears regarding a global recession began to mount following the onset of Putin’s war, many major central banks had to weigh their economic outlook against inflation risk, generally maintaining a looser monetary policy than their U.S. counterpart. These policy decisions allowed the dollar to strengthen more quickly than other world currencies.

As recession fears have slowed and the global economy has normalized, central banks have become increasingly hawkish, moving their monetary policy in line with Federal Reserve. As interest rates rise around the world, future gains in the dollar will be curbed.

The dollar has weakened against many other currencies in the last few months, potentially signaling a more hawkish stance in other major central banks. Source: Bloomberg

Bears or Bulls, What’s Next for the Dollar?

As the global economy stabilizes, many investors are increasingly bearish for the dollar, though the path will be far from straightforward. Analysts believe the recent dollar strength is temporary, and the currency could weaken if the Federal Reserve tapers its interest rate increases. Nevertheless, the underlying geopolitical risk of Putin’s war will continue to prop up the dollar as it remains the haven currency in times of volatility. Likewise, the resilience of the U.S. economy will continue to drive dollar strength as robust jobs data, and stubborn increases in consumer and producer prices, underpin the need for hawkish policy and elevated interest rates.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

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By Keith Good, Farm Policy News, Reprinted with Permission

Late last week, Bloomberg writers Aine Quinn and Megan Durisin reported that, “After a slow start to the season, Russia’s grain exports are booming as buyers load up on its attractive bumper supplies.

“The country’s shipments of wheat — its main crop — almost doubled in January and February from a year earlier, Logistic OS data show. Buyers shunned cargoes earlier in the season when prices weren’t as appealing, but are now returning as last year’s massive harvest helps Russian grain to rank among the cheapest globally.

Chart of Russian wheat prices over time demonstrating reduction in cost based on huge annual production.

Chart Source: “Russia Wheat Exports Nearly Double What They Were Before War,” by Aine Quinn and Megan Durisin. Bloomberg News (March 3, 2023).

“The recent boom shows shippers have overcome some of the financing and insurance problems fueled by sanctions on Russia. The outlook for exports from the Black Sea is also coming into sharper focus as a deal allowing Ukrainian cargoes to sail through a safe corridor comes up for renewal in about two weeks. Supplies from both nations are helping to stop global food inflation worsening.”

The Bloomberg article also noted that, “While Ukraine’s volumes remain significant, they’re below peaks set late last year. The amount carried out of the Black Sea in February totaled 3.35 million tons and the number of vessels cleared for inspection — a part of the deal — fell for a fourth month.

chart from the Black Sea Grain Initiative showing a slow down in the number of Ukrainian grain ships being inspected under the agreement.

Chart Source: “Russia Wheat Exports Nearly Double What They Were Before War,” by Aine Quinn and Megan Durisin. Bloomberg News (March 3, 2023).

Sluggish Inspectors

“Kyiv has blamed a slowdown in its exports since late last year on sluggish work by Russian ship inspectors, who are one of the parties tasked with checking all vessels sailing under the deal.”

On Monday, Bloomberg writer Keira Wright reported that, “Australia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporting country, is likely to see shipments slump 20% from record levels in the coming financial year as production tumbles because of a shift to a drier climate pattern.

“Exports will probably fall to 22.5 million tons in 2023-24 from an all-time high of 28 million tons a year earlier, while output is set to decrease to 28.2 million tons from 39.2 million tons, government forecaster Abares said. The figure for the harvest just completed is up from 36.6 million tons estimated in December. Planting for the coming crop only gets under way in April.

U.S. SRW wheat futures price chart since March 2022 showing the decline in prices since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Chart Source: “Australia Sees Wheat Exports Plunging 20% on Drier Climate,” by Keira Wright. Bloomberg News (March 6, 2023).

Aussie Production Price Cap

“Supplies of the food staple from Australia have helped to cap global prices in the past year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine choked shipments and sent the grain to a record.”

More broadly on global wheat production, Bloomberg writer Aine Quinn reported late last week that, “Global wheat output is expected to drop slightly next season from a record high as the war in Ukraine and dry weather in Russia takes a toll on crops, the United Nations said.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization chart of global wheat production indicating possible decline in production for 2023/24.

Chart Source: “UN Sees Global Wheat Output Falling for First Time in Five Years,” by Aine Quinn. Bloomberg News (March 3, 2023).

“Production should fall roughly 1% to 784 million tons in the 2023-24 season, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday. That would be the first decline in five years and highlights the risk that global grain supplies still face from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.”

Black Sea Corridor Negotiations

In more detailed reporting on the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Deal, Reuters writer Michelle Nichols indicated yesterday that, “United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Wednesday to discuss extending a deal with Moscow that allows the Black Sea export of Ukraine grains amid Russia’s war in the country.

“‘The Secretary-General has just arrived in Poland on his way to Ukraine,’ U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday, adding that Guterres will discuss the continuation of the deal ‘in all its aspects and other pertinent issues.’”

“The 120-day deal, initially brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July and extended in November, will be renewed on March 18 if no party objects. Russia has signalled that obstacles to its own agricultural exports need to be removed before it lets the Ukraine’s Black Sea grain deal continue.”

The Reuters article pointed out that, “Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that Ankara was ‘working hard for the smooth implementation and further extension of the Black Sea grain deal.’”

And Reuters writer Pavel Polityuk reported yesterday that, “Ukraine has started online talks with partners on extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative aimed at ensuring Kyiv can keep shipping grain to global markets, a senior Ukrainian government source said on Tuesday.

“The source said Ukraine had not held discussions with Russia, which blockaded Ukrainian Black Sea ports after its invasion last year, but that it was Kyiv’s understanding that its partners were talking to Moscow.

“‘The situation with negotiations is rather complicated. Now a lot depends not on us but on the partners,’ said the source, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.”

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Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine sent them soaring one year ago, global and U.S. wheat prices have decreased significantly. Continued Black Sea Grain Corridor exports and improved production outlook in major exporters such as Russia and Australia have helped relieve the market of some supply pressure. Bulk ocean freight rates have also broken in favor of wheat and other grain importers.

Even more relief for buyers arrived with the USDA Grains and Oilseed Outlook released on Feb. 23 that projected an 8% increase in all U.S. wheat planted area. On Feb. 24, wheat futures fell as much as 30 cents overnight in response to that report.

In a classic supply and demand equation, tight global wheat stocks and the uncertainty of the Black Sea pushed prices higher and provided an economic incentive to plant more wheat and futures prices reacted to the news.

Chart showing U.S. wheat class futures price volatility over the past several years.

In response to the increased wheat acre estimates, Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBOT), and Minneapolis Grains Exchange (MGEX) wheat futures recently dropped, and have come down as much as 41% from the highs hit in March 2022 to prices not seen since September 2021. Source: Source: U.S. Wheat Associates Price Charting Tool.

Historical Perspective

Over the last two decades, competition for wheat acres has increased as profit margins have shifted to favor other crops such as corn and soybeans. Meanwhile, as market volatility persists, farmers increasingly utilize diversified crop rotations to mitigate price and input risk. The combined impact has resulted in a slow erosion of U.S. wheat annual planted area, with the most recent five-year average coming in at 46.0 million acres (18.6 million hectares), down 24% from the 2002.

In addition to supply pressures at home, enhanced production in competing exporters has highlighted the increasingly tight U.S. balance sheet. Production in Russia has increased 76% over the last decade, while Argentine production, increased 138% from 2012/13 to 2021/22, (excluding the historic drought impacting the 2022/23 crop).

Wheat planted area erosion and increased global competition, coupled with drought-inflicted production shortfalls in the U.S. over the last three marketing years have created a tight balance sheet both domestically and on a global scale, underpinning wheat prices.

Chart showing the volume of planted acres since 2013/14 for wheat, corn and soybeans to illustrate influence on wheat prices.

Wheat acres have decreased over the last decade, compared to the relative, recent stability of soybean and corn planted area. Source: USDA Economic Research Service Wheat Data, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

A Break in the Trend

Breaking from the historical trend, in January 2023, the USDA Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings report projected the 2023 winter wheat seeded area at 37.0 million acres (14.9 million hectares), up 11% from 2022 and 14% above the five-year average. The Hard Red Winter wheat (HRW) area was up 10% to 25.3 million acres (10.2 million hectares), while white winter wheat is up by 3% to 3.73 million acres (1.5 million acres). Soft Red Winter wheat (SRW) experienced the most significant planting increase, jumping 20% from 2022/23 to 7.9 million acres (3.2 million hectares)

Further echoing the sentiment for increased planted area, the recent USDA Grains and Oilseed Outlook projected an 8% increase in all wheat planted area to 49.5 million acres (20.0 million hectares), driven primarily by the jump in winter wheat acres. The estimate is the highest since 2016 and 8% above the five-year average.

Bar chart shows total wheat planted area in acres from 2012 through an estimate for 2023.

The 2023 estimate of wheat planted area mark a substantial increase in wheat acres compared to the last twenty years and the largest planted area since 2016. Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Data.

Looking Ahead

As producers begin their spring wheat sowing campaigns, Jim Peterson, Policy and Marketing Director at the North Dakota Wheat Commission, notes that though there is room for increased planting, many farmers minimized price risk by locking in their crop rotations and inputs for the season early, which tempers major acre shifts. He also added that spring wheat planted area increases this year would be in part a rebound after last year’s wet spring prevented many acres from being planted.

More clarity will come on March 31, when USDA publishes its annual Prospective Plantings Report outlining the initial spring wheat area and updating winter wheat area estimates. Likewise, the May 2023 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates will provide the government’s first insight into the 2023/24 marketing year.

The incentive to plant wheat remains strong, but planted acres do not necessarily equate to production, especially as drought conditions persist in the southern plains. As always, the weather will play a crucial role in crop production as spring planting begins and the winter wheat crop emerges from dormancy.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

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Following a year of dramatic volatility, several factors have pressured global wheat prices back to levels last seen before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. There are several factors behind this trend. In this article, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) examines the tenacity of world wheat trade even in the face of serious market uncertainty.

In February 2022, Russia’s unprovoked invasion shook world markets, launching a season of unprecedented volatility and record prices across the agricultural sector. In response to Putin’s war, nearby Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures soared to $14.25/bu. Combined with record global consumption, production shortfalls, and a tightening global balance sheet, the war cast a shadow of uncertainty over the grain industry.

In May 2022, the market rallied yet again when India banned wheat exports, just days after Indian government officials assured world buyers that India would lead the charge to offset the supplies from the Black Sea and help tamp global food price inflation. CBOT wheat futures once again touched record highs of $12.77/bu.

Line graph shows how U.S. HRW, HRS and SRW wheat futures prices have changed from early 2022 through early 2023.

Volatility has been apparent in CBOT Wheat futures, Kansas City Board of Trade (KCBOT) Hard Red Winter wheat futures, and Minneapolis Grains Exchange (MGEX) Hard Red Spring wheat futures since the invasion. Source: U.S. Wheat Associates Price Charting Tool

A Black Sea Breakthrough

Flash forward to July 2022, when Russia and Ukraine, with support from the United Nations and Turkey, agreed to the Black Sea grain corridor and created the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) to facilitate exports for the region. The agreement allowed supplies trapped in Russia and Ukraine to re-enter the world market, and in response, wheat futures eased 37% from the spring’s highs.

Bar chart shows Russian wheat production, export sales and other information using data from USDA.

Russian wheat production increased by 21% from 2021, and exports are expected to increase by 30% on the year. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

Return to Pre-War Prices

In the months since the corridor was implemented, wheat futures have continued falling to pre-war levels. The downward pressure of steady, low-priced Black Sea wheat exports remains the primary driver. According to JCC data, since the corridor’s inception, 5.1 MMT of wheat have been shipped from Ukraine. As for Russian exports, the January U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates pegged Russian wheat production at 91.0 MMT, though some private sector forecasts are upwards of 104.0 MMT. With record production, Russian exports are expected to reach 43.0 MMT, 17% above the five-year average.

A record crop from Australia has also helped ease some global supply concerns. The Australian wheat crop is rumored to reach nearly 42.0 MMT, though USDA estimates hover at 36.6 MMT.

On the domestic front, the USDA Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings Report increased 2023 winter wheat acres by 11% from 2022 to 14.9 million hectares. The combined impact of the ample Black Sea supplies and improved outlook in several major exporters has helped turn the wheat market back to buyers.

Bar chart of data from USDA shows global wheat production and global wheat use over the past 10 years.

For the third year in a row, world wheat consumption has outpaced production, even though global wheat production hit a record 781.3 MMT in 2022/23. Wheat is drawn from ending stocks to meet global demand. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

What Comes Next?

Market sentiment has become increasingly bearish and prices have significantly dipped in the buyer’s favor; however, many unknowns linger in the market. The underlying uncertainty of Putin’s war will continue to support the market. As seen in October, when Russia threatened to pull out of the Black Sea Grain initiative, prices spiked in response to the threat. In more recent news, on Jan. 25 a Russian missel struck a Turkish cargo ship in the port of Kherson in Ukraine, also sending futures momentarily higher. Volatility is a concern for as long as the war continues. Global balance sheets will also remain tight into the new crop year, and global wheat consumption continues to outpace production. Another factor, though not unique to this year, the weather will continue to play a significant role in prices as markets closely monitor the drought afflicted Argentine wheat crop and HRW conditions in the U.S. Central and Southern Plains.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

 

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USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will publish its first official estimate of U.S. winter wheat planted area for the 2023/24 crop on Jan. 12, 2023. Along with U.S. wheat importing customers, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) will be watching trade estimates before the report is issued and make some comparisons to NASS estimates in 2022.

USDA’s Economic Research Service has noted that “the general downward trend in U.S. wheat plantings over the last two decades is attributable to lower relative returns for wheat, changes in Government programs that give farmers more planting flexibility, and increased competition in global wheat markets.”

The past three marketing years, however, have seen a slight change in that trend.

At planting time in 2022, the relatively high farm gate prices for hard red winter (HRW), soft red winter (SRW) and white winter wheat (including winter soft white and hard white) provided some incentive to plant more winter wheat. Looking ahead, the pre-report predictions to date for total winter wheat planted area of between 34 million acres (MA) and 36 MA are both higher than the final 2022 crop NASS estimate of 33.27 MA. A survey of traders by Bloomberg posted Jan. 9 estimated total winter wheat planted area at 34.5 MA.

More Planted Acres Expected

Wheat analyst Jeffery McPike with WASEDA Commodities and McWheat Trading Inc., recently pegged that group’s initial 2023 planted area forecast at 35.7 MA that, if realized, would be a 7.3% increase over NASS’s final 2022 estimate. The high end of estimates in Bloomberg’s survey is 36.2 MA.

The group’s forecast of 24.8 MA for HRW planted area is 7% more than the final NASS 2022 estimate based mainly on expected gains in the Central and Southern Plains. The Bloomberg trader survey estimate averaged 23.9 MA.

McPike said the group is bullish on SRW planted area with a forecast of 7.22 MA, which is 11% more than NASS’ final 2022 estimate. For example, an Arkansas Extension official recently reported that “good prices and a relatively dry fall likely encouraged farmers to plant more winter wheat for a 2023 harvest. Early estimates are that winter wheat acres in Arkansas will be up 25% to 30% from last year.” Traders surveyed by Bloomberg estimate the average at 6.9 MA.

The group sees only a slight uptick in white winter wheat planted area to 3.65 MA. The Bloomberg trader estimate average was 3.7 MA. The January 2022 NASS estimate for winter white planted area was 3.56 MA.

Bar chart depicting USDA's estimates of U.S. wheat planted area from 2013 through 2022, by wheat class.

Change in Direction. Compared to the general downward trend in U.S. wheat planted area, higher wheat prices for farmers have provided an incentive to plant more wheat the past three marketing years. Planted area for the three winter wheat classes (HRW, SRW and white winter) are all up since 2019/20. Note that “White” wheat on this chart includes spring-planted soft white wheat.

And Watch Harvested Area and Production Estimates

NASS will adjust its winter wheat planted area forecast throughout 2023. And, as McPike pointed out, the currently unknown harvested area, along with production estimates, will be  major price determinants. For example, compare the final 2022 NASS estimate of HRW planted area of 33.89 MA to final harvested area of 24.05 MA.

“After the NASS figure is published and gets digested, the market will likely quickly move to winterkill issues (again) in the U.S., Europe, and the Black Sea regions,” McPike said, “and harvested area discussions, along with the many macro issues that continue to roil the markets.”

The annual NASS Winter Wheat Seedings report will be published here: https://usda.library.cornell.edu/concern/publications/z890rt24s,

An additional source of information is the USDA Economic Research Service December 2022 Wheat Outlook published at https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/cz30ps64c/hh63v4630/zc77v192n/WHS-22l.pdf.

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USDA released its December World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report Dec. 9, 2022, that included no substantial changes for global and domestic wheat markets. Given the overall volatility in 2022, a somewhat calming report was probably a blessing in disguise for wheat buyers who should, however, keep an eye on declining global stocks and exportable supplies.

Each month, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) updates a graphic summary the WASDE report that includes global wheat market factors, major country and regional export history, and U.S. wheat supply and demand summaries by class. Readers can review the report online here. Some highlights from the December report follow.

Stocks to Fall

Based on USDA’s latest global wheat production estimate of 781 million metric tons (MMT) and total use of 790 MMT, marketing year 2022/23 will be the third in a row and the fourth in the last five years in which use has exceeded production.

The WASDE report included a 500,000 metric ton drop in estimated global ending wheat stocks to 267.3 MMT. If realized, those supplies will be the lowest since 2013/14. Of that total, an estimated 54.5 MMT will be found in “Exporter” countries, 68.4 MMT will be in “Importer” countries and 144 MMT will be in China. That means 54% of global ending stocks are locked out of world trade, an amount that is up from USDA’s estimate of about 51% in December 2021.

Bar chart showing the global wheat Ending Stocks to Use ratios since 13/14.

Locked in China. Global wheat stocks-to-use ratios are much lower when China’s 144 MMT of wheat stocks are removed from the equation. The down-trend is clear and has accelerated since 2019/20. The current stocks-to-use ratio of 19% without China, which does not export wheat, is the  lowest level in more than 10 years. Source: USDA, U.S. Wheat Associates.

Given the poor condition of the Argentina wheat crop, USDA lowered ending stocks there by 500,000 metric tons, but increased European and Australian ending stocks. Analysts were somewhat surprised USDA did not change its 91 MMT estimate of Russian wheat production.

While USDA did not change its U.S. ending stocks estimate of 15.54 MMT in the latest WASDE report, it is the lowest U.S. ending stocks since marketing year 2007/08. Buyers that were in the market that year will remember the stunning run up in wheat prices fueled by extremely low global stocks. At one point that year, only a few weeks of world wheat supplies were available.

Low Exportable Supplies

In a video presentation on World Wheat Supply and Demand recorded for 2022 USW Crop Quality Seminars, USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director Steve Wirsching showed that ending stocks among exporting countries have declined significantly over the past five years.

“When exporters hold so few stocks, this increases market volatility and leads to higher wheat prices,” Wirsching said. A condition made even more uncertain by Russia’s on-going incursion into Ukraine.

Data from USDA's December WASDE report show wheat stocks are down, trade is up and use is up in 2022.

Wheat’s Balance Sheet. Data from USDA reflects the trend behind higher global wheat prices: falling supplies, increased trade and record demand year-over-year.

Trade Volume to Increase

The world wheat trade estimate increased in December by 2.2 MMT to 210.9 MMT. December’s report suggests higher exports from Ukraine, Russia and the EU. While expecting Australia’s exports to reach 27.5 MMT, almost a record volume, USDA also noted that a significant portion of Australia’s exports will be for animal feed following harvest rain and lower quality in New South Wales. The world total estimated exports and imports for the year now stands at 211 MMT

USDA did not change its U.S. wheat export volume estimate of 21.1 MMT, with slightly lower soft red winter (SRW) offsetting slightly higher hard red spring (HRW) and soft white (SW) exports.

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USW Vice President for Overseas Operations Mike Spier (far right) and Regional Vice President for South Asia Joe Sowers greet attendees at the 2022 USW Crop Quality Seminar in Manila.

USW Vice President for Overseas Operations Mike Spier (far right) and Regional Vice President for South Asia Joe Sowers (center) greet attendees at the 2022 USW Crop Quality Seminar in Manila.

Crop Quality Seminars presented by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) concluded this week with a universal response by customers in every corner of the world: They are impressed by the high quality of the 2022 crop across all six wheat classes but concerned about the sustained higher prices.

One other common opinion: Those attending in-person seminars were happy to meet USW staff and U.S. wheat producers face-to-face.

“It was great to have a number of U.S. producers sharing their stories and interacting with customers,” reported Tyllor Ledford, Assistant Director in USW’s Portland office, who was part of the U.S. wheat team that presented in South Asia. “There was some great dialogue between the farmers and customers about production practices and risk management topics. And obviously, there was a lot of interaction and feedback on this year’s wheat crop.”

A big part of USW’s effort to communicate supply, demand and crop quality information to wheat buying and milling groups, the annual seminars took place throughout November. Separate in-person or hybrid (in-person and virtual) seminars were conducted in South Asia, Central America, South America, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the European Union (EU). Virtual seminars were conducted in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan with support from videotaped crop quality presentations.

“We had a good turnout in the EU, with a lot of questions about this year’s crop and a lot of interest in future crops,” said USW Vice President of Programs Erica Oakley, who partnered with the USW EU Regional Office in Rotterdam and Erica Olson of the North Dakota Wheat Commission to lead seminars in Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal. “Everyone was very pleased with the wheat crop and what we presented, but higher prices remain a concern.”

USW Secretary Treasurer Clark Hamilton (at podium) and Dave Green, Executive Vice President, Wheat Quality Council, present at the USW 2022 Crop Quality Seminar in Bangkok, Thailand.

USW Secretary Treasurer Clark Hamilton (at podium) and Dave Green, Executive Vice President, Wheat Quality Council, present at the USW 2022 Crop Quality Seminar in Bangkok, Thailand.

In the MENA region, seminars were held in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. USW Regional Technical Manager Peter Lloyd said the uncertainty of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and the future of the Black Sea Grain Initiative weighed heavily in the discussion.

“Overall, participants were impressed by the high quality of this year’s U.S. wheat harvest, but the strong U.S. dollar and high freight rates are not helping the prices affecting the region,” Lloyd said. “We will likely be helping our customers deal with a reduced availability of high-protein wheat in the next marketing year.”

In South America, seminars in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile also attracted buyers and millers eager to learn about the 2022 crop. There were curiosities about potential U.S. transportation problems and how it may affect U.S. wheat exports in the future.

USW staff and partners pose for a photo with a group of U.S. wheat customers during a 2022 Crop Quality Seminar in Quito, Ecuador on Nov. 10.

USW staff and representatives of partner organizations pose for a photo with a group of U.S. wheat customers in South America during a Crop Quality Seminar held Nov. 10 in Quito, Ecuador.

“There were questions about ongoing drought and transportation issues, such as the Mississippi River barge situation and the potential railroad strike in the U.S.,” explained Miguel Galdos, USW Regional Director in Southern America. “That, of course, is based on the concerns about pricing. As far as the crop quality, attendees were pleased with the U.S. crop this year, especially the baking quality of hard red winter wheat.”

The South Asia seminars conducted in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines featured USW staff and a seven-member USW board team that shared information about their farm operations.

“Millers meeting with U.S. wheat producers is vital to promoting our product,” said Joe Sowers, USW Regional Vice Present for South Asia. “Discussions about challenges and opportunities on each side of the wheat industry provide great insight into the value of U.S. wheat, which is a primary goal of the seminars each year.”

The 2022 USW Crop Quality Report and by-class reports can be found here.

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With a significant decline in U.S. wheat production, the September 30, 2022, the USDA/NASS Small Grains Summary report took many wheat traders and analysts by surprise. The report estimated total production at 44.91 million metric tons (MMT) 1.65 billion bushels of total U.S. wheat production, down 3.62 MMT from August estimates.

The quarterly report is the culminating outlook for the U.S. wheat crop and follows the Grain Stocks report in January, the Prospective Plantings report released in March, and the Acreage Report released in June.

An article in  Farm Futures, noted that all the pre-report trader estimates missed the mark except for white wheat production. Wheat futures rallied after USDA released the Small Grains Summary. December 2022 Chicago soft red winter futures closed 3% higher on the tighter outlook. Kansas City and Minneapolis exchanges were also higher. Reflecting the now apparently standard volatility, futures prices then retreated as speculators adjusted their market positions at the start of the new month.

Behind the Production Drop

U.S. wheat farmers faced many obstacles this year. Hard red winter (HRW) farmers experienced prolonged hot and dry conditions in the lower Plains states, especially Kansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and Colorado. In the upper Plains states, hard red spring (HRS) farmers faced heavy rain and cool temperatures early in the planting season, causing planting delays and ultimately lowering the amount of spring wheat area planted this year, offset a bit by an increase in harvested area compared to the 2021 drought year.

USDA-NASS data on changes to production, yield and stocks for winter wheat from the 2022 Small Grains Summary

Drought in parts of the southern and central hard red winter wheat production region and other factors prompted USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to make a substantial reduction in total 2022 U.S. wheat production in its Sept. 20 Small Grains Summary.

The Small Grain Summary showed an improved yield when combining all wheat classes. The “All Wheat Classes” yield was up 5% from 2021 at 46.5 bushels per acre (bu/acre). The improved yield was boosted by a dramatic recovery in spring wheat which the report recorded at 46.2 bu/acre compared to 32.6 bu/acre in 2021, a 42% improvement in yield. However, winter wheat yield was down 6% compared to 2021 at 47 bu/acre. Durum wheat also saw a significant improvement in yield year-over-year at 40.5 bu/acre up 64% compared to last year.

WASDE Reflects Changes

The USDA applied the revised production data from its Small Grains Summary in its October World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) on October 12. While 2022 production was lowered 3.62 MMT, beginning stocks were raised. Looking ahead, 2022 ending stocks were lowered, led by a 900,000 MT reduction in SRW stocks. The ending stocks estimate, pegged at 15.68 MMT, is down nearly 14% from last year and, if realized, would be the lowest since 2007/08. Exports were trimmed 1.09 MMT to 21.09 MMT, if realized this will be the lowest export total in over 50 years (noting that U.S. exports were 21.20 MMT in marketing year 2015/16).

New Information, Different Result

In keeping with the volatile pattern, despite USDA’s latest estimate reducing total U.S. and world wheat production, futures did not rally as they did after the Small Grain Summary. Instead, the Chicago December SRW contract was down 18 cents. Kansas City HRW was down 20 cents, and the Minneapolis HRS contract was down 18 cents. Including supply changes, this market is loaded with uncertainty, including the on-going conflict in Ukraine, the high value of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies, and news of challenging weather conditions here in the United States and other wheat exporting countries. As always, your local U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) representatives are ready to help the world’s wheat buyers navigate these challenging conditions.

By USW Market Analyst Michael Anderson

 

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Grain buyers have the unenviable task of sorting through today’s news and determining what it means for tomorrow’s prices. Experienced buyers have plenty of tools to help with their decisions, but the volatility experienced in 2022 may be embedded for the near future. Talk of a global recession may soften commodity prices initially, but just as quick, geopolitics can reverse any downward trend as we’ve seen the last two weeks.

U.S. wheat futures price chart for one year from October 2021 to late September 2022 showing volatility affecting the global wheat market

Volatility seems to be the new normal in global wheat markets. U.S. wheat futures prices over the past year clearly demonstrate that condition.

Global Supply

The global balance sheet for wheat is down 10.0 MMT in 2022/23 compared to 2021/22 at 1.06 billion metric tons (MT). Beginning stocks this season are the lowest since 2017/18 while ending stocks are expected to be the tightest since 2016/17. Despite Russia’s huge wheat crop and rebounds in production for both the U.S. and Canada, reductions in the European Union (E.U.), Argentina, and Ukraine are helping to keep prices firm.

U.S. wheat production is up this year, increasing almost 4 MMT to 48.5 MMT according to USDA. Exports are expected to increase slightly to 22.5 MMT. According to the latest world agricultural supply and demand estimates (WASDE), production for all classes of U.S. wheat is expected to increase this year except for hard red winter (HRW) wheat which is estimated down 21%. Kansas, the primary HRW growing state, remains dry even as winter wheat planting is underway.

Black Sea Grain Corridor

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had the biggest effect on upending the global wheat market. The United Nations brokered an agreement to establish a grain corridor in the Black Sea. As a result, Ukraine has shipped more than 7 MMT of grain since July, when the agreement was signed according to APK. However, Putin’s criticism of the grain deal and escalation of the war on his neighbor have once again roiled markets and sent futures higher.

The multilateral agreement establishing the grain corridor will expire in November. Given the Russian president’s unpredictable actions so far, there is no guarantee that the agreement will be renewed.

Russian Potential

Russia has produced its largest wheat crops ever. The USDA forecasts Russian wheat production at 91 MMT this month while the European Union’s crop monitoring service, MARS, projects the Russian wheat crop will total 95 MMT. The USDA predicts exports could reach 42 MMT. But Russian exports so far this season have been slow to move. According to IKAR, a Russian analyst, Russian wheat exports are expected to reach 4 MMT in September, well behind the 4.7 MMT exported a year ago. Russian wheat exports are not under any western backed trade sanctions, but shipping companies, insurers, and banks are still cautious to do business with Russia.

Additionally, heavy rain in the central and southern areas of the country is delaying plantings. SovEcon reported that 8.6 million hectares (21.2 million acres) of grain had been sown so far, 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) behind their pace a year ago. The consultancy added that it’s the lowest area planted since 2013.

Dependability of Supply

India also played its hand in driving global wheat futures higher. After initial pronouncements of feeding the world’s hungry, India quickly reversed course and blocked wheat exports. The country is expected to instead import 25,000 MT of wheat this year.

Input Costs

High gas prices could affect access to nitrogen-based fertilizers. Yara International, a Norwegian-based fertilizer producer warned that the gas situation in Europe could create shortages and add to risk. Gas prices on the continent have risen 45% since June when Russia curtailed shipments following E.U. sanctions. Yara said it expects to pay $1.1 billion more for natural gas in the third quarter than a year ago. Natural gas is a key ingredient for making nitrogen-based fertilizers.

U.S. dollar value indexed to a basket of currencies showing the general rise over the past year.

U.S. Dollar Value continues to rise against many different currencies, affecting the cost of dollar denominated wheat trade. In such an uncertain global wheat market, even minor changes in the dollar index are adding volatility.

The Rising U.S. Dollar

Overall, the U.S. Dollar (USD) continues to strengthen. Yet in this environment even subtle changes up or down in USD value can move U.S. and global wheat prices.

There is no shortage of headlines that directly affect the global wheat market. It is tough to say how much the road will curve in the near term. Grain buyers will remain busy absorbing the headlines as fast as they come.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

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This was supposed to be the year dry bulk freight vessel owners turned a profit, Jay O’Neil, a commodities consultant and author of a weekly transportation report recently commented. And U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) shared similar thoughts early in 2021. Instead, S&P Global Market Intelligence noted recently that freight rates for dry bulkers have fallen over the past three months after rates peaked earlier than expected in the second quarter of 2022.

As rates recently climbed, however, O’Neil said the freight market may have finally found its bottom.

Bearish Factors

Since early 2020, shipping has faced uncertainties: labor shortages, various COVID restrictions made worse by each country applying different restrictions, port congestion, and supply chain breakdowns have all competed to make shipping tough. The challenges to shipping logistics have abated. As a result, the number of available vessels floating in the dry bulk freight market has increased.

As China Goes…

China plays such a dominating role in the dry bulk shipping market that analyzing economic activity there can predict the dry bulk fleet’s prospects. China’s economic growth slowed under the government’s zero-COVID policy. The global iron ore trade, one aspect that drives the dry bulk fleet, was down 6% last month compared to a year ago. An analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence said “slower than expected economic growth” could exist through the second half of 2023. O’Neil covered bearish factors for the dry bulk freight market for USW’s 2021 Crop Quality report.

Russian Coal

Putin’s war in Ukraine has also rerouted some cargo flows and driven up demand for coal, another commodity that absorbs dry bulk shipping capacity. Sanctions on Russian gas supplies have quickly reversed European Union plans to close many coal-fired plants. While the E.U. looks to the United States for coal imports, India and China are taking advantage of cheap Russian coal and changing demand for different bulker size categories.

Another key component that helped bring down dry bulk shipping rates is the easing of port congestion.

“Inefficiencies of last year do not apply to the current market anymore and the supply-demand equation is more straightforward,” said one ship owner. AXS said a primary driver behind the lower rates is the drop in ton-miles.

Overall, Breakwave Advisors, a shipping publication, agreed saying, “Following a period of high uncertainty and significant disruptions across the commodity spectrum, the gradual normalization of trade is shifting the market’s attention back to the traditional demand and supply dynamics that have shaped dry bulk profitability for decades.”

This was all good news for dry bulk freight customers, including the world’s wheat buyers.

Line chart shows the Baltic Dry Index change from April 2022 to September 2022

Stormy Seas for Dry Bulk Freight. After peaking in the second quarter of 2022, the Baltic Exchange Dry Index retreated before bouncing up in September. Some suggest the market found a bottom, yet bearish economic factors continue.

Turning Tides

Yet signs of rate recovery are evident. The Baltic Index on September 9 notched its largest weekly increase in 8 years, according to Reuters data. The index was up 12% to 1,213. On September 12, the Baltic Index marked its fourth consecutive session of gain. AgriCensus, in a story published on August 31, noted that the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to 49.4 in August, up 0.4 compared to July. But still, the index remained below the 50-point mark which separates contraction from growth.

Despite the current strengthening in the shipping index, generally bearish factors affecting dry bulk freight rates such as China’s economic situation remain. Those that follow the market closely say that rebound may simply be a market correction. For now, it seems like vessel owners may have to wait longer before turning that profit that many predicted not long ago.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst