By 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.
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