The U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors includes wheat farmer leaders appointed to represent each of the 17 state wheat commissions that are members of USW and meets three times during each marketing year (June to May). For each of the meetings, the USW Market Analyst prepares a “Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook” report based on USDA market data to provide an update on the global and U.S. wheat market. The full Winter 2021 report is posted at

The report includes sections on world wheat supply and demand, wheat production in the major wheat exporting countries and regions, including U.S. wheat production by class, timely reports such as U.S. wheat seeded area, and U.S. commercial wheat sales.

World Production and Use data from the Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook

The latest report, prepared Jan. 27, 2021, indicates marketing year 2020/21 is a significant one, with several records set. For example, USDA expects global wheat production to reach 773 million metric tons (MMT) following increased annual production in Australia, Russia and Canada among exporting countries. World wheat trade is expected to increase 1% to a record 194 MMT, which would be 7% more than the 5-year average. With strong carryover from 2019/20 and increased production, global wheat ending stocks are projected at 313 MMT, with China expected to hold 159 MMT and India 31.3 MMT of that total at the end of 2020/21. U.S wheat ending stocks, however, are expected to be the lowest since 2014/15.

USDA has also reported that U.S. winter wheat seeded area (including hard red winter, soft red winter, fall seeded soft white, hard white and Desert Durum®) increased for the first time since 2013/14. Hutchins notes in the report that beneficial field conditions and strong farmgate price potential at planting time motivated hard red winter and soft red winter wheat producers to increase planted area from last year.

U.S. Winter wheat planted area data from the Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook

View the full Winter 2021 Wheat Supply and Demand Outlook at


By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

USDA pegs 2020/21 world wheat production at a record 773 million metric tons (MMT), up 1% from last year and 3% above the 5-year average of 721 MMT. Total global supplies are forecast to reach a record 1,072 MMT, 2% more than last year. USDA projects significantly higher production in several of the world’s major exporting regions including Australia, Canada and Russia. Specifically, in Australia, production is expected to rebound 87% on the year to 28.5 MMT as favorable precipitation during the growing season pulled the country out of a severe, three-year drought. USDA estimates 2020/21 world wheat ending stocks will reach a record 321 MMT, up 7% from last year and 16% more than the 5-year average.

Higher global production and ending stocks are matched by increased global demand, lending confidence to the 26.5 MMT USDA forecast for the final 2020/21 U.S. wheat export volume. USDA expects total global consumption will reach a record 751 MMT this year, slightly higher than last year and 2% more than the 5-year average. Increased total global consumption is driven by a significant increase in human consumption which more than offsets reduced feed wheat use. Global human wheat consumption is expected to increase 2% on the year to a record 613 MMT. USDA expects global wheat trade to reach 190 MMT, slightly below last year’s record but 5% more than the 5-year average.


By Michael Anderson, USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office

For the past several days, many wildfires across the western United States have left devastating damage and loss of life. Across the Pacific Northwest. Unusually high winds on Sept. 7 dramatically expanded the fires in Washington state and Oregon. While many of the fires have been contained, the smoke has caused dangerously high levels of air pollution over the entire region.

Despite the choking smoke and destructive force of the blazes, damage to the U.S. wheat crop and infrastructure has been limited. Export facilities and wheat export logistics are still operating as usual. The export facilities in the Columbia River system continue to operate normally and without delay.

Smoke from massive wildfires obscures the familiar view of a vessel being loaded across the Willamette River from USW’s West Coast Office in Portland, Ore.


While there were no delays in vessel loading, sadly, fires in Eastern Washington state ignited recently harvested wheat piles next to the Pine City Grain Elevator south of Spokane. Rural communities in both Washington and Oregon have been heavily impacted. Some wheat fields in both Oregon and Washington received some low-level fire damage but much of the crop was already harvested. Far worse, the fires have killed many people.

Low visibility has caused barges to limit the amount of wheat they can carry west to Portland, but the barge companies are accustomed to such hazards as limited visibility caused by fog is common in the Pacific Northwest.

Smoke is expected to continue expanding east across the continent with haze reported as far east as New York, N.Y., and the Arlington, Va., headquarters of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) nearly 3,000 miles away.

Everyone at USW shares concerns about the people who grow and deliver U.S. wheat and our colleagues in the Pacific Northwest. A change in the weather pattern that will help end this natural disaster is very much needed.

Photo at top by Bongil Lee.


In its latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, USDA provided a look at what is shaping up to be another record year for wheat production, use and stock levels. Worth noting is the fact that USDA expects two traditionally non-exporting countries, China and India, will control more than 61% of the world’s wheat stocks at the end of marketing year 2020/21.

Each month, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) updates a graphic summary of USDA’s WASDE report that includes global wheat market factors, major country and regional export history and U.S. wheat supply and demand summaries by class.

Here are some notable highlights from USW’s August World Wheat Supply and Demand report:

Global wheat production to hit another record of 766 million metric tons (MMT). USDA expects increases in Australia, Russia, Argentina, Canada and other countries to offset lower production in the European Union and the United States. Global use continues to grow and USDA expects it to reach another record in 2020/21 at 750 MMT.

Source: USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

Global ending stocks are now projected at a record level of 317 MMT. If realized, that volume would be 5% more than 2019/20 and 14% more than the 5-year average. A more in-depth analysis of ending stocks shows the stockpiling of wheat in China and India continued unabated in large part because of government price guarantees that artificially incentivize wheat production and distort world trade. China’s record 2020/21 beginning stocks of 152 MMT could increase through the marketing year to end at 163 MMT and USDA expects India to hold a record level of 30.7 MMT at the end of 2020/21. China will not export any of its stocks. India, however, may start exporting as it has periodically when its subsidized production exceeds its ability to store and distribute it domestically.

Source: USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.

U.S. ending stocks are expected to decrease 11% from last year, the lowest in 6 years. The expected drop in U.S. ending stocks from 28.4 MMT in 2019/20 to 25.2 MMT in 2020/21 would be the fourth consecutive year of declining U.S. stocks.

Yet profitability from wheat is not a certainty for U.S. farmers. In fact, USDA indicates a decline in the average price U.S. farmers will receive per bushel, from $4.58/bu ($168/MT) last year to $4.50/bu ($165/MT) in 2020/21.

Partly as a result, all wheat area planted for harvest in 2020 was estimated at almost 44.5 million acres (about 17.9 million hectares), down 2% from 2019 and the lowest since USDA records began in 1919.

Source: USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates.


By USW Market Analyst Claire Hutchins

Between January and February 2020, USDA raised its total U.S. wheat export estimate from 26.5 million metric tons (MMT) to 27.2 MMT, 7% greater than last year, if realized. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) believes the United States is on track to reach USDA’s export estimates due to favorable marketing trends in the first half of 2019/20 that led to a strong export pace between June 2019 and February 2020.

U.S. wheat farmers continue to produce an abundant supply of high-quality wheat, which is always a factor in overseas demand. Export prices have certainly attracted customers’ attention in marketing year 2019/20. And if they compare current price trends to what has happened at this time of year on average the past five years, customers can also see an unusual buying opportunity.

HRW. USDA expects 2019/20 HRW exports will reach 10.6 MMT, 18 percent greater than last year, if realized. Relatively low HRW prices during the first half of 2019/20 boosted HRW exports into early 2020. Between early June 2019 and late December 2020, the average Gulf HRW 11.5% protein (on a 12% moisture basis) FOB price trended about 7 percent below the 5-year average price. As of Feb 13. 2020, HRW exports to all destinations total 6.44 MMT, 33 percent greater than this time last year and 61 percent of USDA’s 2019/20 forecast. HRW prices climbed between late August and early January but have fallen back 4 percent between to $226/MT FOB, offering a price incentive for the final months of the marketing year.

HRS. USDA forecasts 2019/20 HRS exports will reach 7.48 MMT, 6 percent greater than last year, if realized. As of Feb 13. 2020, HRS exports to all destinations total 4.62 MMT, slightly below last year and 62 percent of USDA’s 2019/20 forecast. Gulf HRS 14% protein prices trended dramatically below 2018 values and the 5-year average price between early June and late September, until concerns of a wet harvest brought prices more in line with 2018 levels at about $270/MT. However, HRS prices are trending down in the second half of 2019/20 and are, on average, 5 percent lower than the 5-year average FOB trendline at about $264/MT. Industry experts believe HRS FOB prices could continue their downward trend on cheaper nearby secondary rail rates and light export demand, beneficial for deliveries in April and May 2020.

SRW. USDA predicts SRW exports will total 2.72 MMT, 22 percent lower than last year, if realized. USW reported Feb. 5, soft red winter (SRW) export prices had been climbing steadily since the end of the 2019 harvest on reduced production, tight ending stocks and stable domestic and overseas demand. However, after Jan. 24, a dip in export demand pressured prices, offering an opportunity for SRW importers to lock in a lower price through the end of marketing year 2019/20. Between Jan. 24 and Feb.14, 2020, SRW prices fell 6 percent to $247/MT FOB. Despite reduced production and higher than average prices, SRW exports to date are in line with this time last year at 1.83 MMT, 67 percent of USDA’s final forecast.

White wheat (soft and hard). USDA predicts 2019/20 white wheat exports will total 5.31 MMT, in line with last year and 15 percent greater than the 5-year average of 4.60 MMT. For the majority of the first half of 2019/20, soft white (SW) wheat (representing 99 percent of U.S. white wheat production) 10.5% maximum protein prices trended well below the last year’s price and the 5-year average price over the same time period, providing overseas customers with ideal white wheat buying opportunities. As of Feb. 14, the SW 10.5% protein maximum FOB price was $237/MT, 2 percent lower than this time last year and 5 percent below the 5-year average. As of Feb. 13, 2020, all white wheat exports total 3.56 MMT, 3 percent greater than last year and 67 percent of USDA’s final white wheat export forecast.

Durum. USDA predicts 2019/20 U.S. durum exports will total 1.10 MMT, 83 percent greater than last year and 54 percent greater than the 5-year average. Durum exports to Italy, the largest market for U.S. durum, are more than double what they were this time last year at 439,000 metric tons (MT) due to a 12 percent reduction in European Union (EU) durum production in 2019. Year-to-date U.S. durum exports now total 655,000 MT, nearly double last year’s export pace and 60 percent of USDA total 2019/20 durum export forecast.


By USW President Vince Peterson

Recently, I have heard several of the farmers that U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) represents say they are hoping for a much better year in 2020. No wonder, given the low farmgate prices, trade uncertainty and difficult harvest conditions last year. A better year would be good for our farmers and for our overseas customers, too, who want farmers to have the incentive to continue producing a reliable supply of high-quality U.S. wheat.

From the perspective of global supply, demand and trade factors, we do see mostly positive influences hovering just out in front of us as we start the new year. After a long-term bear market that pulled Chicago wheat futures down from $9.50 in 2012 to a bottom of nearly $3.50, recent firmness in prices represents possible change and momentum on the horizon.

To highlight the primary market factors, we can start with a look at the Southern Hemisphere. Australia remains in the grips of drought that has reduced this year’s harvest outlook by 35 percent below their 10-year average. Australian wheat export prices are currently among the world’s highest at around $265 per metric ton (MT) FOB. In Argentina, the newly elected government has increased export taxes again for wheat from 7 percent to 12 percent (soybean export taxes were raised by 30 percent!). The bump in wheat export taxes raises FOB prices by more than $10 per MT, allegedly to protect domestic producer prices. That is not good for their importing customers, particularly for Brazil. However, after more than a dozen years of negotiations, Brazil on January 1 opened its 750,000 MT duty free tariff rate quota (TRQ), potentially advancing wheat import demand from outside Mercosur. When Mercosur wheat supplies have been tight, U.S. farmers have supplied an average of 80 percent of Brazil’s non-Mercosur needs.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Russian wheat export expectations have been reduced based on lower domestic supplies and prices for their standard 12.5 percent protein wheat (calculated on a dry matter basis and is most closely comparable to U.S. HRW 11 protein calculated on a 12 percent moisture basis). Russian FOB export prices are now around $219 per MT, with U.S. hard red winter (HRW) 11 percent at approximately $222 FOB from the Gulf. Long gone are the $40 to $50 per MT FOB discount spreads that have disrupted what would be normal logistical trade patterns in some recent years.

In its December “Wheat Outlook” report, USDA noted that cuts in wheat production in Argentina, Australia and Canada create potential opportunities for U.S. wheat exports in marketing year 2019/20.

In trade, despite the uncertain slog of negotiations, the United States has completed trade deals with Mexico through the finalization of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (the new NAFTA) and through an initial bilateral agreement on agriculture with Japan. U.S. wheat export shipments to Mexico in marketing year 2019/20 already stand at 2.74 million metric tons (MMT) versus sales at the same date last year of 2.18 MMT. Together, Mexico and Japan account for more than 4.0 MMT and 25 percent of all U.S. wheat export sales to date.

Finally, trade negotiations with China, which have been perhaps the biggest weight on U.S. wheat market fundamentals and psychology, appear to be at a more hopeful position. This week, President Trump announced that the U.S. and China will sign a so-called Phase One deal on January 15. Based on information provided by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, China has agreed under the Phase One agreement to cancel retaliatory tariffs and import significantly more U.S. agricultural products, including wheat. Running parallel to this potential demand, China has also agreed to start filling its annual 9.6 MMT reduced tariff TRQ for imported wheat. In the five years before the start of the U.S.-China trade “war” in 2018, U.S. wheat exports to China averaged 1.5 MMT per year. That provides a logical basis for a more robust world and U.S. wheat trade with China.

Over the last five years or so, U.S. wheat producers have shouldered many challenges and continued to produce the highest quality, most wholesome milling wheat in the world, as they have done for decades. We do not yet know if these positive shifts in market and trade factors will provide the economic boost they need. But in that hope, our team at USW will be watching how they affect the markets – and how that will affect our overseas customers.


By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

In its December World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, USDA now expects world wheat production for marketing year 2019/20 to increase by 5 percent to 765 million metric tons (MMT) from last year’s 731 MMT. Lower expected production in Argentina and Australia likely encouraged USDA to also increase its forecast for U.S. wheat exports in 2019/20 by 4 percent. Already expected, record-setting total use was also raised.


USDA said increased wheat production is mainly in the Northern Hemisphere. The report noted European Union (EU) 2019/20 wheat production increased 12 percent over last year to 154 MMT, total Black Sea wheat production increased 6 percent over 2018/19 to 131 MMT, and U.S. wheat production increased 2 percent year-over-year to 52.3 MMT.

That volume more than offset lower output south of the equator where prolonged droughts continue to challenge wheat producers in Argentina and Australia. Argentinian wheat production is forecast to fall 3 percent from last year to 19.0 MMT. Australian wheat production is expected to decline by 7 percent year-over-year to 16.1 MMT, the country’s lowest wheat output since 2007/08.

USDA forecasts total U.S. wheat exports in 2019/20 will reach 26.5 MMT, up from its November estimate of 25.9 MMT and 4 percent greater than last year’s 25.5 MMT. As of November 28, according to USDA export sales data, total U.S. wheat exports of 16.5 MMT outpace last year’s sales by 9 percent. Exports to five of the top 10 markets for U.S. wheat are ahead of last year’s pace. Notably, U.S. wheat exports to Mexico are up 27 percent on the year. Hard red winter (HRW) and durum exports in 2019/20 both outpace last year’s sales.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) and Gulf hard red spring (HRS) free on board (FOB) prices have remained steady and high following a wet, difficult harvest and minimal farmer selling. Despite these higher price levels, USDA increased its HRS export estimate from 6.94 MMT in October to 7.08 MMT in December.

USDA also predicts a significant increase in total wheat consumption in 2019/20 compared to last year. Total global consumption is expected to reach a record 754 MMT, 2 percent greater than 2018/19. USDA expects the top three importers of wheat, Egypt, Indonesia and Brazil, to increase total wheat imports year-over-year. Total wheat imported by these three countries is expected to increase 4 percent over last year to 31.2 MMT.


By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

Extremely high temperatures and below-average precipitation levels prompted USDA to reduce its Russian wheat production forecast from 78.0 million metric tons (MMT) in its June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report to 74.2 MMT in its July WASDE report. That is a 5% reduction month over month. Russia’s leading agriculture consultancies also reduced their Russian wheat production forecasts. Between June 11 and July 24, SovEcon reduced its 2019/20 Russian wheat production forecast by 10% from 82.2 MMT to 73.7 MMT. Between early June 12 and August 5, IKAR reduced its Russian wheat production estimate by 6% from 80.2 MMT to 75.5 MMT.

All sources point to lower Russian wheat production, but SovEcon and IKAR differ in how they see reduced exportable supplies affecting Russian export prices. Despite reducing its wheat production forecast, SovEcon estimates “Russia’s wheat crop issues are not big enough to impress the market.” Accordingly, it quoted Russian FOB values for 12.5 protein wheat (equal to 11.0 protein on a 12% moisture basis) at $197/MT on July 29 and at $195/MT on August 2. IKAR, on the other hand, believes the country’s reduced exportable supplies contribute to rising FOB values. According to IKAR, Russian FOB values for 12.5 protein wheat rose from $193/MT on July 23 to $196/MT on July 30.

How should these price differentials be interpreted? A look at recent tenders from Egypt’s state commodity-procurement agency, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) provides some insight. Through GASC, Egypt publicly offers to purchase wheat in set amounts from global exporters. Grain trading companies source wheat from multiple origins to bid on the GASC tenders, vying to offer the lowest FOB prices available. The tender results are available to the public, offering a clear picture of current export prices by origin source.

Often, conditions affecting exportable supplies in the Black Sea are apparent in GASC tender results. For instance, between May and July 2018, USDA reduced its Russian wheat production forecast by 7% on abnormally wet conditions affecting spring wheat planting and abnormally dry conditions affecting winter wheat areas. In 2018, for example, Black Sea supply concerns made their way into GASC’s tender results. On June 12, 2018, Russia’s lowest offer at the GASC tender was $209/MT FOB. By August 2, 2018, Russia’s lowest offer reached $235/MT FOB as supply concerns worsened.

While Russian 2019/20 wheat production is expected to increase 3% over 2018/19 levels to 74.2 MMT, its exportable supplies (beginning stocks plus production minus domestic consumption) are expected to fall 2.0 MMT from last year to 49.0 MMT in 2019/20. This year’s weather challenges are again present in recent Egypt’s GASC tender results. Between June 11 and August 6, the lowest FOB offer Russian wheat increased 4% from $197/MT to $204/MT. It is worth noting that the August 2 U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Price Report estimated Gulf FOB export price for U.S. hard red winter (HRW) with equivalent protein for September delivery at $205/MT.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) believes these price trends could continue if hot, dry conditions persist across Russia’s predominant wheat growing regions.

Every month, USW publishes a graphic summary of the latest data from USDA’s WASDE report, including global wheat market factors, major country and regional export history and U.S. wheat supply and demand summaries by class. View the monthly summary here.


By Claire Hutchins, USW Market Analyst

According to USDA’s June WASDE (World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates) report, U.S. feed wheat consumption will increase 64% in marketing year (MY) 2019/20 to 3.81 million metric tons (MMT), compared to 1.36 MMT in MY 2018/19. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) believes the current price relationship between domestic wheat and corn and the nutritional value of U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat and soft red winter (SRW) wheat support USDA’s estimates.

When the cash price gap between U.S. wheat and corn shrinks, wheat becomes an attractive feed ingredient for the cattle, swine and poultry industries. Per bushel, wheat is typically more expensive than corn, making it economically less practical as a staple ingredient in U.S. feedlots. However, recent market conditions are changing wheat and corn feeding ratios across the United States. The spot price gaps between U.S. winter wheat and corn have diminished, and even inverted, over the past several months as the potential for a bountiful wheat harvest offsets the potential for lower corn production due to late spring planting in the Midwest.

HRW can be substituted for corn as cattle feed in the High and Southern Plains where much of the country’s HRW wheat is grown. The cattle industry, predominant in Kansas and Texas, favors wheat as a feed ingredient when HRW is less than $1.00/bu more expensive than corn. Between early May and late June, the average cash price for wheat and corn increased steadily in both states, but the price gap narrowed and eventually inverted by early July.

In early May, the cash price for HRW in Kansas, the third largest cattle-producing state in the country, was $0.49/bu higher than corn. By early June, the price gap dropped to $0.29/bu. On July 1, the average cash price for both commodities settled around $4.06/bu and by July 5, HRW was $.06/bu cheaper than corn at $4.20/bu. According to Aaron Harries, Kansas Wheat Commission Vice President of Research and Operations, Kansas feedlots are already feeding more wheat than usual as managers respond to market incentives. Importantly, the decision to feed more wheat is made based on months of efficient market conditions as the ideal cattle diet consists of at least six months of a consistent ingredient blend.

Source: Reuters Eikon

In Texas, the largest cattle-producing state in the country, the recent spot price relationship between HRW and corn has been much tighter. In the first half of May, the cash prices for HRW and corn were nearly tied around an average of $3.92/bu. By early June, the average cash price for HRW dropped $0.24 below corn’s $4.50/bu. The cash-price relationship between wheat and corn is still inverted as of early July and HRW is, on average, $0.37/bu cheaper than corn.

“We are seeing a trend of feedlots purchasing more wheat directly from producers and elevators,” says Darby Campsey, Texas Wheat Producers Board, Director of Communications and Producer Relations. “Market conditions and wheat quality are increasing the value of wheat compared to corn in some cases.”

Campsey explains that in addition to market conditions, Texas livestock producers make grain purchasing decisions based on nutritional needs and local supplies. When wheat protein is lower than average, producers may be more likely to sell to feedlots, where quality requirements are slightly easier to meet than milling standards.

In the Midwest and South, where much of the country’s SRW is grown, swine producers are willing to pay more for wheat than corn because of wheat’s high nutritional value, according to Joel DeRouchey, Kansas State University professor in swine nutrition and management. Corn is used as a feed ingredient for swine because it is cheaper and a higher source of energy than wheat, but wheat brings a higher concentration of amino acids and phosphorous to the animal’s diet. The same market conditions affecting Kansas and Texas can be seen in Illinois and North Carolina, making wheat an even more attractive feed ingredient for swine producers.

In Illinois, the fourth largest swine-producing state in the country, the average spot price gap between SRW and corn decreased significantly between early May and early July. In early May, SRW was, on average, $.90 more expensive than corn. By July 8, the difference collapsed to $.50 as SRW prices continued their decline to $4.92/bu and corn prices continued their incline to $4.42/bu.

Source: Reuters Eikon

At an elevator in North Carolina, the second largest swine-producing state in the country, the spot price for corn surpassed the spot price for SRW between early June and early July. Between June 24 and July 5, the spot price for SRW sank from $4.82/bu to $4.38/bu while the price of corn hovered around an average $4.81/bu.

Wheat is also used as a corn feed substitute in the poultry industry due to its high protein content. Wheat becomes attractive to broiler producers when the price gap between SRW and corn narrows to $.50/bu. The average cash price for SRW in Kentucky, the seventh largest broiler producer in the country, decreased significantly between June 26 at $5.39/bu and July 5 at $4.91/bu, while the average price of corn increased from $4.36/bu to $4.60/bu. In early June, the average spread between SRW and corn was $.81/bu. As of July 5, the spread narrowed to just $.31/bu.

Source: Reuters Eikon

“I wouldn’t be surprised if more chicken producers are feeding wheat. Corn is preferred for chickens, because of its high energy levels, until corn prices rise too high, and right now cash prices for wheat and corn in Maryland are pretty close,” says Jason Scott, Maryland wheat farmer and USW past chairman. As of July 8, the average SRW spot price in Maryland, a top ten broiler producing state, was only $.10/bu higher than corn.

If the narrow or inverted price gaps between wheat and corn persist across the country, producers could continue to increase the amount of wheat used in feed blends for cattle, swine and poultry, potentially surpassing USDA’s estimate of 3.81 MMT.

Every month, USW publishes a graphic summary of the latest data from USDA’s WASDE report, including global wheat market factors, major country and regional export history and U.S. wheat supply and demand summaries by class. View the monthly summary here.


By Tanner Ehmke, Manager, Knowledge Exchange, CoBank; Reprinted with permission;
View the original report here.

Key Points:

  • Blockchain innovations in agriculture are numerous but have been slow to gain industry-wide acceptance, particularly in global agriculture commodity trading.
  • Previous attempts to digitize trade finance with tools like bank payment obligation (BPO) have been slow to take hold, raising doubts among market participants of new digitalization efforts like blockchain.
  • Commodity agricultural trade faces unique challenges, including the blending of grain along the supply route, and the lack of digital documentation within sections of the supply chain.
  • Digital solutions are quickly evolving, creating an environment where blockchain technologies may be more viable in ag commodity trading in the near future.
  • Investment in storage, transportation, and sensors to segregate and track commodities through the supply chain is necessary to give buyers visibility, with high-value or value-added commodities like non-GMO and organic grain where provenance and tracking are desired.


Blockchain, the distributed ledger technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin where identical records of transactions are stored on multiple computers, is still in its infancy but has seen a flood of pilot programs and proof-of-concepts from companies around the world as they race to harness its power of transparency. The agriculture and finance industries in particular have captured the spotlight as ripe for disruption by blockchain technologies. Adoption of most blockchain technologies across agriculture, however, has been limited to date. Banks and agribusinesses nonetheless remain keen on finding distributed ledger solutions to deploy industry-wide and potentially achieve efficiencies from faster transaction speeds, less cumbersome documentation, and simpler and faster payments between buyers and sellers around the world.

EXHIBIT 1: Process of Domestic Supply Chain for U.S. Soybean Export via Barge; Graphic Source: CoBank

Other digital solutions that promised to transform the commodity trading sector, such as bank payment obligation (BPO), are recent reminders that change can be hard work without industry-wide acceptance. Until numerous roadblocks to blockchain solutions are resolved, such as a lack of a digital ecosystem for paperwork like bills of lading and letters of credit for parts of the supply chain; improvement in global industry protocols in quality; standards in language; investment in storage and transportation for segregation; and technological advancements in sensors to monitor movement of commodities along complex trade routes, industry-wide adoption of blockchain in agricultural commodity trading will struggle to grow beyond proof of-concept. But, if successful, blockchain could be transformative across the sector, bringing value across the supply chain from producers to consumers.

Complex Supply Chains

Blockchain applications for agriculture abound., GrainChain, AgriDigital, OriginTrail, and IBM Food Trust are just a few of the blockchain-based technologies created for commerce in agriculture. Yet in the complex global agricultural commodity space where crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat are blended from numerous farms and pass through multiple hands before reaching the final destination, a blockchain solution that links the supply chain and creates transparency of transactions from beginning to end remains in idea phase. The biggest challenge for the widespread adoption of blockchain technologies in agricultural commodity trading is the complexity within the chain of custody (Exhibit 1). Grain leaving the farm is often comingled at a country elevator, then blended again at a rail or barge loading facility, then comingled again at the export facility where it is loaded on an ocean vessel for export. At the receiving port overseas, grain will likely be blended even more after off-loading the vessel.

EXHIBIT 2: Grain Ocean Vessels Loaded, by Port Region; Graphic Source: CoBank

Digitizing even portions of the supply chain could create huge cost savings for grain handlers. The physical delivery of documents like bills of lading, letters of credit, contracts, letters of intent, and invoices is cumbersome. While costs of shipping documents are negligible and could be eliminated with a blockchain platform, the cost and risk of important documentation arriving late could be far greater. If documents to the receiver of the grain do not arrive on time, the shipper must pay the cost of demurrage for every day the barge, rail car, or vessel sits idle. Cost of demurrage per barge, for instance, can run about $300/day. Demurrage is a charge for failure to load or unload barges, rail cars, or ocean vessels within the time allowed.

A non-blockchain based digital solution currently is being evaluated by a consortium of agribusinesses for barge freight on the Mississippi River for the purpose of reducing paperwork and creating seamlessness in transactions between companies. Paperwork such as bills of lading and letters of credit have digital forms for ocean vessels, but are in paper form for barge traffic on the Mississippi River, which is an important logistical leg of the global agricultural commodity supply chain. Digitizing paperwork on the Mississippi River export route offers the greatest potential for blockchain solutions in global agricultural commodity trading. The majority of U.S. ocean-going vessels loaded with grain depart from the New Orleans region (Exhibit 2).Barge traffic for grain on the Mississippi River regularly exceeds 15,000 barges/year (Exhibit 3). The plethora of documents in the grain trade that must be digitized for seamlessness across the supply chain includes but is not limited to:

  • Letters of credit
  • Bills of lading
  • Trading slips
  • Certificates on weights, grades, phytosanitary
    specifications, fumigation, and origin.

Additionally, the industry would need agreement on where in the supply chain the data would be committed to the blockchain, such as at the barge or rail car loading facility, or at the farmer’s field. The data on a blockchain for grain traded on the inland river system would then also have to be integrated with systems for ocean-going vessels heading to international markets, thereby requiring international standards for data and governance.

EXHIBIT 3: Grain Barges Unloaded in New Orleans; Graphic Source: CoBank


Previous attempts to digitalize trade finance were heralded as transformative but have yet to change the status quo in global trade. In recent years, the bank payment obligation (BPO) was created with significant investment and promised faster handling of goods, payment at due date, and faster receipt of trade documents. The lack of wide-spread adoption of BPO has raised doubts among market participants of new digitalization efforts like blockchain. A blockchain platform may not be adopted industry-wide despite significant investment and coordination, particularly in emerging markets where there is frequently a lack of consistency in technology. Or, if successfully adopted, a blockchain platform could itself be disrupted by yet another new technology. Questions about ownership of data on a distributed ledger have also raised concerns. Trading firms want information to be private. If chain of custody information is visible for anyone on the supply chain to see on a distributed ledger where each market participant or node would have access to all documentation, merchandisers will be reluctant to use
a blockchain platform. Who will gain access as a node in the blockchain will require governance and rules, thereby requiring a governing body trusted by all parties of the supply chain to host nodes and validate transactions. Blockchain would not reduce or eliminate the need for regulators. Maintaining the quality of information that is inputted into the blockchain would require a licensed inspector who might need access to the blockchain to see documents and integrate their certification information on grading. A regulator or third party would also still be needed to define responsibilities, rules, and regulations of supply chain participants despite blockchain widely thought of as a technology that would replace trusted intermediaries. With the huge volume of shipments moving outside of the U.S., cooperation from international buyers is required to create the protocols necessary for blockchain in agricultural commodity trading to flourish. However, the current geo-political climate – especially with the U.S. and important trading partners like China – raises doubts about achieving a globalized trading system on a blockchain.

Blockchain’s application in the ag commodity trade may also be limited to only portions of the supply chain. If farmers and country elevators are not incentivized either through cost savings or gain in value, adoption of blockchain will be limited to segments further down the supply chain.


Despite major challenges impeding blockchain’s use in the global grain trade, the potential opportunities achieved through a distributed ledger system could be significant. Blockchain could potentially expedite borderless clearing, help facilitate digitally validated chains of custody through choke points like barge and train loading facilities, allow buyers and sellers to follow a shipment through various chains of custody, lower the cost for clearance of goods, eliminate duplicated inspections at ports, lower risk of demurrage, assist with payment, mitigate counter-party risk, and greatly reduce the risk of errors and fraud. Corn, which has the simplest trade specifications under the Federal Grain Inspections Service (FGIS) would be the easiest commodity to adopt into a distributed ledger platform, followed by soybeans and wheat. If provenance is important, sharing knowledge of the entire chain of custody will be necessary for commodities like non-GMO and certified organic. Through investment in grain storage and transportation for segregation, greater transparency in the supply chain to segregate other attributes, including but not limited to:

a. High-oleic oil content for soybeans
b. Protein content
c. Foreign matter
d. Moisture levels

Further investment in electronic sensors to trace, validate, and verify quality attributes, though, would be required to make transparency possible along the complex commodity trading route. With sensors in place, a blockchain platform could evolve to include payment systems within “smart contracts” that automatically execute transactions without human intervention as the product moves through the supply chain. However, a distributed ledger system that shares this information would also need to protect proprietary information held only between buyers and sellers.


The challenges of industry-wide adoption of blockchain technologies for agricultural commodity trading are ample, but so are the potential benefits. Greater visibility in the supply chain will create value for many, but standards will change. The winners in a hypertransparent environment will be those who have the ability to segregate and capture higher value in the commodity chain. Those who struggle to adapt will be those with limited ability to segregate. Experiences with prior efforts to digitize trade have raised the level of caution for blockchain. High investment into blockchain may not result in industry-wide adoption. If successfully adopted, a blockchain platform could crowd out small players. It could also be disrupted by yet another new technology.

To be successful, a blockchain platform bringing transparency to an entire supply chain would need to be private and secure from outside parties. Only invited parties or nodes would be allowed to view the data on transactions for traders to be confident that proprietary information is not made public. This would require a governing body to determine who is allowed to participate on the blockchain.

Global standards and protocols will also need to be established. Given the current geo-political and global trade environments, such an evolution in international cooperation will likely be years in the making.