The early view for 2023
As one harvest wraps up, plans for the next harvest begin. USDA released its preview of 2024 with the publication of their long-term projections earlier this month, along with an update for the current crop year. To summarize the releases quickly, we will have plenty of corn and soybeans to satisfy the markets over the next two years. For the 2023 crops, yields were better than expected and usage has not been able to keep pace. For the 2024 crops, production is projected to remain strong, as USDA assumes normal weather patterns in their early forecast. Thus, the pattern is set up for a continued building of ending stocks and lower crop prices.
For corn, the new estimates for the 2023 crop put production back up at a record level, 15.234 billion bushels. The national yield was increased by 1.9 bushels per acre, to 174.9 bushels per acre. The yield increases were seen in many states, but especially in drought-impacted states, as farmers reported stronger yields after harvest than their early estimates before the combines rolled. The additional 170 million bushels from the yield boost was a shock to the corn market, but there was some offsetting news. USDA also found reasons to increase corn usage for 2023. They added 50 million bushels to feed and residual use, 25 million bushels to ethanol, and 50 million bushels to exports. The feed and residual growth is based on a higher projection for beef production for 2024 (beef production is still declining in 2024, but the rate of decline is now less) and larger harvest losses (part of the residual use category). The increase in corn usage for ethanol is supported by good ethanol margins and relatively low ethanol stocks. And the boost to exports is being driven by the recent increase in corn export pace relative to our five-year average. Pulling all of these moves together, corn supplies increased 170 million bushels, corn usage increased 125 million, and so corn ending stocks rose by 45 million bushels. The higher stocks led USDA to lower its 2023-24 season-average price estimate by 10 cents, to $4.85 per bushel.
Looking forward to 2024, USDA projects that corn plantings will decline by 3.9 million acres, to 91 million acres. Their trendline yield is 181 bushels per acre. This leads to a slightly smaller corn crop than this year, but still over 15 billion bushels. With the sizable corn stocks left over from this year’s crop, total corn supply during the harvest of 2024 will exceed 17 billion bushels. But while corn usage is also expected to grow, its growth is not projected to be quick enough. Feed and residual use is projected to increase by 150 million bushels, reaching back up to 5.8 billion bushels. This will require continued growth from pork and poultry and a strong recovery in beef. Ethanol is projected to slide back by 25 million bushels, returning back to 5.3 billion bushels. Food, seed, and other industrial uses for corn are seen as slightly declining as well, at 1.41 billion bushels, and exports are projected to fall back by 25 million bushels to 2.05 billion bushels. The combined shifts put total corn usage at 14.56 billion bushels, nearly 100 million bushels above this year’s estimate, but below the levels seen for 2020 and 2021. Ending stocks continue to rise, reaching 2.661 billion bushels. The 2024-25 season-average price is projected to fall to $4.50 per bushel, roughly $2 below the 2022-23 season-average price.
For the 2023 soybean crop, the balance sheet adjustments were smaller than for corn, but the movements were in the same direction. The national yield was increased by 0.3 bushels per acre, to 49.9 bushels per acre. That added 25 million bushels to production, with much of the additional production coming from the more-severely drought-impacted states. And while supplies grew, soybean usage for 2023 was not changed. So, there were no offsetting moves and soybean stocks increased by 25 million bushels to reach 245 million bushels. Despite the increase in stocks, the US soybean market remains tight and USDA held its 2023-24 season-average price at $12.90 per bushel.
The projected drop in corn area for 2024 opens more land for soybeans. USDA foresees an increase of 3.4 million acres in soybean plantings, covering 87 million acres. Given a trend yield of 52 bushels per acre, soybean production is projected at 4.475 billion bushels, roughly 350 million bushels above this year’s crop and 10 million bushels above the record 2021 crop. This would put total soybean supplies for the 2024-25 marketing year at 4.735 billion bushels, which is roughly the same level as 2021. Soybean usage is projected to grow as well, but not quite as fast. Domestic crush is expected to increase by 75 million bushels, mainly driven by biofuel demand for soybean oil. Soybean exports are estimated to rebound, reaching back above 1.9 billion bushels. Chinese soybean demand remains the key, but the increase in competition from Brazil has stymied that rebound thus far. Total soybean usage will roughly equal the total the market experienced in 2021. The growth in production is set to outpace the growth in usage, so 2024-25 ending stocks are expected to increase to 311 million bushels. As with corn, USDA expects prices to fall, with the 2024-25 season-average price estimate set at $11.30 per bushel, down a $1.60 from this year’s estimate and nearly $3 from 2022.
The profits from the previous couple of years are now sliding into our rear-view mirror. USDA is now projecting that corn prices will slip below production costs this year, with soybeans following the year after. Farm financial conditions will tighten up once again, much as they did following the last drought-focused market run (2011-13). The lessons we learned from that cycle will help cushion the blows during this one.
Listen to the latest Market Outlook video for further insight on outlook for this month.
Chad E. Hart, extension economist, 515-294-9911, firstname.lastname@example.org