Saturday February 06 2016



Agriweek Canadian agribusiness authority since 1967


Statistics Canada reported December 31 stocks of the seven major grains plus lentils at 38.5 million tonnes, 13% less than the year-earlier 44.2 million. AS a percentage of production, stocks were 61% at the end of 2015 compared to 70% a year earlier (not counting carry-in). Farm disappearance (sales and on-farm use) between the harvest and December 31 increased by 33% in 2015 over 2014. For most crops year-end stocks were reasonably comparable except for non-durum wheat (down 24% from the 2014 date and 30% below the 2013 level) and lentils (down 47% and 60%). Combined canola stocks were similar to levels of a year and two years earlier at 12.11 million tonnes, however commercial inventory was significantly larger. Farm stocks of canola were down 8% from a year earlier and 9% lower than at the end of 2013 at 10.45 million tonnes. Farm and commercial wheat stocks, not including durum, of 13.53 million were the lowest for the date in at least six years, though durum wheat at 4.22 million was slightly higher. The biggest change in stocks was for lentils. Out of a total supply including carry-in of a record 2.75 million tonnes, year-end stocks were just 869,000. While the peak of the export season is passed, lentil supply will be very tight, carryover could be the lowest in recent years and the incentive to seed more acres in 2016 will be very strong. Otherwise December 31 stocks were adequate to service domestic and export needs at current rates to the 2016 harvest. Eastern corn stocks were 11.36 million tonnes on December 31, up 17% from a year earlier after an 18% gain in 2015 production. Soybean stocks were 1% higher at a record 3.35 million tonnes. Farm stocks were lower but commercial soybean stocks rose 8% to 1.35 million.


Planning for the 2016 cropping season is well begun. Because of the low dollar, crop prices are high enough that it is reasonable to expect a positive margin between returns and cash costs from almost all crops, even allowing for higher input costs that are also a side effect of a cheap dollar. The incentive to plant all available area is very strong this year and total seeded area in western Canada will be the highest ever, as summerfallowing is finally virtually eliminated. The limit of cropped area in the prairie provinces is about 67 million acres and that is approximately what will be seeded this spring unless weather prevents it. Total crop area in 2015 was a record 65.5 million acres, after 61.9 million in 2014. Canola rotations are stretched to the limit and beyond, but a new acreage record is in sight for 2016 nevertheless. The recommended rotation is still four years (canola on the same land once in four years). If it were observed the maximum area available for canola in the west would be about 16.5 million acres. Last year it was 20.1 million and in 2014 20.8 million, which was the record. For 2016 it could exceed 21 million acres, which would imply an average rotation of just over three years, not much changed from the last two seasons. Wheat and barley area will decline but not by too much. Acreage of oats should drop to a long-time low because of unattractive prices relative to others, even though the per-acre cost of growing oats is the lowest of any major crop. In Ontario the same factors will influence corn and soybean area as in the US midwest, where economics favor corn over soybeans. Corn area rose in 2015 and soybean area declined, and it can be expected the same trend will be repeated. (01/29/2016).


It goes without saying that pulse crop area and production in western Canada will smash all records this year. The price performance of peas and lentils in 2015-16 was legendary. A record supply of lentils coincided with record prices. Despite the production record of 2.75 million tonnes in 2015, carryover will be almost zero. Lentil acres have averaged 3.25 million over the last three seasons, with a record of 3.57 last year. For 2016 it should reach 4 million, even having in mind the region where lentils do well is quite limited. Acreage will spread to non-traditional areas for lentils as well as other pulse crops. Peas were very profitable in 2015-16 because of high prices and low input costs. After years of steady increase, acreage seeded to peas dropped 8% in 2015 to 3.68 million, but should easily reach 4 million in 2016. Such a surge in lentil and pea production could oversupply the market in 2016-17, unless India and other major importers again have poor crops. However pea prices could be supported because they are the cheapest source of animal feed protein and there is plenty of scope to increase their use if prices are competitive. (01/30/2016)


The flipside of strong crop returns is production cost. The dollar exchange rate that is boosting crop prices also increases input prices. US and world nitrogen prices are lower than a year ago but Canadian prices are similar or in some cases higher because of dollar devaluation. The same is true of most herbicide and pest control products, though there appear to be aggressive promotional and discount programs that offer significant savings. Fuel prices are down sharply, by half since a year ago, with prices of 50 to 55 cents a litre being quoted. These prices are still roughly double what US growers just below the border are paying, but represent a significant offset to fertilizer and chemical costs. Some retailers report slow pre-season buying after an average fall fertilizer season. Some farmers appear to expect that prices could be lower towards spring, either due to exchange rate recovery or unsold inventory. However input inventory for the 2016 spring season was priced at the wholesale level some time ago and any price reductions depend on retailer discounting if sales are slack. This seems very unlikely given the pressure to maximize crop area. (01/30/2016)


Wisely, the Bank of Canada decided in mid-January to leave interest rates alone. Had the central bank lowered its interest rate last week the dollar would have slid towards 65 cents. After losing 3.5 cents since January 1, it would have set a new sudden-collapse record. It is true that deterioration in the exchange rate is keeping Canadian commodity prices stable and comparatively strong while prices in US dollars sag. During the past 12 months the dollar has lost 14% of its value, which means it raised Canadian prices by 16%. So in theory a still lower dollar would raise Canadian prices even more. The currencies of virtually all grain exporting countries except the US have behaved similarly: in Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Ukraine, even the euro. Because of the relatively strong American dollar, US wheat exports are down 18% in the crop year to date, soybeans down 28% and corn down 13% because they are overpriced against weak-currency competition. While on the face of it a lower dollar is an export advantage, there are limits. Imports (including most crop production inputs) are more expensive and the risk of inflation rises. Agricultural prices would have risen by 4 to 5% but the general economy would have been hurt far more than helped. (01/25/2016)


The world oil market is at a breaking point. Either the big producers like Saudi Arabia come to their senses and stop pumping oil for which there are no buyers and no storage, or they will be forced to do so by physical and economic necessity. It could happen either way literally any day. When the bottom is passed, oil prices will rebound sharply, as they have done in every one of the four cycles since 1985. Some OPEC oil can be produced for as little as $10 a barrel, but the revenue from oil sales also has to support lavish budgets of the oil countries, which are now extremely stressed. The lowest sustainable oil price in the Persian Gulf is about $60 a barrel. With Iran on the point of adding 500,000 barrels a day to a surplus of 1.5 million, the pressure will soon become simply too much. Oil prices are certain to recover and with them the Canadian dollar but no one can predict when. It could be in a month or six months, but not a year. With the uncertainty of interest rate policy now removed, the price of oil returns as the main and almost sole factor driving the exchange rate. (01/25/2016)


Statistics Canada issued its annual balance sheet of Canadian agriculture last week, as at December 31 2014, and it showed that rapid growth in the value of farm assets and much smaller increases in debt continued. Farm equity nationally was calculated as $445 billion, a gain of $38 billion or 9% from the 2013 date. The value of total farm assets rose by 9% to $525 billion at the end of 2014, mainly due to an average 10.6% increase in the value of farm land. Higher prices produced a 49% gain in the value of livestock inventories, although crop inventory declined by $2 billion. The value of marketing board quota was estimated at $32.6 billion, almost unchanged; quota has no intrinsic value and represents the cost of the right to produce supply-managed products. Quota value was equal to 72% of all the equipment on Canadian farms, which was $45 billion, up a modest 4% during the year. Farm real estate was valued at $381 billion, up 9% over the previous 12 months and 24.6% over two years. Total liabilities increased to $80 billion from $75 billion or 7%. The debt-to-asset ratio was 15.2% at the end of 2014, the lowest since 1997. Equity increased in every province except Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Unsurprisingly, the biggest gains were in the west where land represents a bigger percentage of total assets, at about 12%, The highest-equity province was Ontario where farm equity was $124 billion, followed by Alberta at $122 billion. This spectacular asset performance will not be matched for 2015, or for that matter for some years to come. The rate of appreciation in land values has slowed, on-farm inventory value as of the end of 2015 probably declined, and debt could be slightly higher. (01/25/2016)


The meatpacking industry just got the cold shoulder from new federal employment minister Mihychuk. On the job for two months, she already seems to know more about employment conditions in the meatpacking industry than the Canadian Meat Council. The packing industry has struggled with chronic labor shortages for as long as anyone can remember. There was useful relief from the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, until 2014 when criteria were tightened by the former Harper government. Although regulations have not changed, it is now very difficult to get approval for any workers. The CMC has been lobbying for consideration for the unique labor issues its members face. Canadian packing plants are short at least 1,000 workers and a similar number of low-performing employees would be replaced if it were possible. The labor shortage reduces efficiency and raises costs. The minister made it clear that the TFW program will continue as is, and said skills training and better recruiting will solve the worker shortage. Packinghouse work is not highly skilled, is unpleasant and physically demanding. But someone has to do it. Canadian workers do not take to it because they do not have to. Many employees are recent immigrants, but those often leave as soon as they become established. High turnover requires a steady stream of new hires. It reveals a complete ignorance of the situation to claim that there is a simple, instant solution, or that employers have not already tried everything possible to fill vacancies. The labor shortage is limiting meat production just as the devalued Canadian dollar makes exports extremely profitable. Animals that cannot be processed in Canada are exported live to the US, as are the jobs. It is insulting to the Canadian meat trade to have an urgent concern waved off out of hand by a political gadabout. The career politician was formerly an NDP cabinet minister in Manitoba and once ran for mayor of Winnipeg, getting 10% of the vote. (01/19/2016)


It is no surprise that North American farm equipment sales dropped in 2015, as crop prices faded. What is remarkable is that Canadian sales fell much more than US sales. According to the Assn of Equipment Manufacturers, and excluding small models that cannot be considered real farm tractors, unit sales of 10,489 in Canada were down 26% from 14,103 in 2014. US sales declined 11% to 83,331. Sales in the highest-horsepower categories in both countries dropped more than overall sales, by 28% in Canada and 39% in the US. Very small models (under 40 hp) made up over half of all unit sales in both countries and both years. Farm equipment sales are very sensitive to crop prices and crop revenue, however because of dollar weakness Canadian prices were much stronger than in the US throughout 2015. Of course the low dollar also raised equipment prices in Canada. Harvester combine sales were 13% lower at 1,948 in Canada but 33% lower in the US at 5,381. Canadian sales were 17% higher during December at 197. Field inventories of tractors in both countries were very high at year-end, equal to over seven months of sales in Canada and more than six months in the US. (01/19/2016)


As grain and oilseed prices continue to grind lower, it is more and more obvious that the US is losing ground in the world agricultural commodity market. In 1995-96 US wheat production was 11% of the world total and exports were 35%. In 2015-16 it was 8% and 15%. Twenty years ago the US produced 37% of the corn in the world and still produces 36% now, but its corn exports have fallen from 71% to 36% of world trade. Over the same period US soybean production grew by 69% but its percentage of the global total fell from 47% to 33%. South American soybean output is now half again as large as American and South American exports are 1.4 times US exports. These trends have several causes and have been evolving for some years, but the comprehensive devaluation of other currencies of the last year or two has accelerated them. Farmers almost everywhere outside the US are seeing very profitable prices in their own money and weak-currency exporters are undercutting American prices by whatever it takes to get the business. However price parameters for the world continue to be set in Chicago, where internal US supply-demand issues often obscure world fundamentals. The Chicago market has yet to find a market-clearing price range which will make US corn, wheat and soybean export offerings more competitive. (01/06/2016)


Futures trading volume set records in 2015. On the ICE Canada exchange in Winnipeg, canola trading set a new record for calendar 2015 at a total of 5.58 million contracts or 11.2 million tonnes, up slightly from 5.55 million in 2014, the previous mark. Canola options volume for the year was 166,323, 37% above 2014. Canola open interest ended the year at 183,197 contracts, up 42% At the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, hard red spring wheat futures trading set a record at 2.32 million contracts, 8% above 2.15 million in 2014, the previous high. Year-end open interest was 3% higher at 73,959 contracts. Futures activity in Minneapolis has risen 74% since the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly was eradicated and Canadian grain companies began to use the Minneapolis contract for hedging. The MGE owes its prosperity, if not its survival, to this new Canadian participation. (01/05/2016)


OmniTrax Canada said it has accepted a letter of intent from an unidentified Manitoba aboriginal entity for he purchase of the Churchill grain terminal and 1,000-km the railway that connects it to the continental rail network. The offer is contingent on financing from the federal and provincial governments. Given the prevailing political climate this will probably not be difficult. The rail line is the only link for several northern communities for basic goods, so will be saved at any cost. However the future of the grain will not be secured. For generations, Churchill boosters have refused to accept that the real issue has always been lack of demand for its services. Importers and ship operators simply do not care to go there, not even with the $9-a-tonne federal subsidy. Current record-low ocean shipping rates eliminate whatever distance advantage Churchill ever had. OmniTrax has offered to help run the operation as long as necessary and as long as it is not exposed to the losses. The port had to be subsidized throughout the time it was government-run, never made money for OmiTrax and will never make money for anyone else. (12/28/2015)


The US Congress passed and the president signed on December 18 a measure removing the compulsory aspects of the COOL country of origin labelling law for red meats. COOL required meat from all other countries sold in the US to be labelled as to where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered, but it has special application to Canada because of exports of live cattle and hogs. The World Trade Organization ruled several times that COOL violates undertakings that the US has made in the Uruguay Round. Terminology in media reports calling the measure a repeal is inaccurate. It merely invalidated the mandatory provisions and only for beef and pork, the only meats involved in the Canada-Mexico trade complaint. The COOL provisions were attached to a 2,000-page government funding bill, which also contains numerous other measures unrelated to government spending. The government has apparently accepted the amendment as a satisfactory resolution. The previous Conservative government insisted it would not be sufficient because voluntary labelling with market-discrimination effects would remain in the law. (12/18/2015)


The final version of the same $1.15-trillion bill omitted a measure which would have prevented the states from enacting state-level labelling standards for foods containing GMO ingredients. This opens the way for a patchwork of different state requirements that national food companies will find very hard to meet. It will permit the use of GMO-free status of foods as a marketing and pricing factor, and will spread the impression that GMO-containing foods are less safe or desirable. The first state GMO labelling law will take effect in Vermont next July 1 and legislatures in New York state and Connecticut are expected to take up similar laws in early 2016. (12/18/2015)


The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is as unclear as ever following recent statements by US lawmakers. Senate speaker Ryan said TPP ratification is something that Congress should do promptly, but many influential members of both parties appear to oppose it, some strongly. Even Senate Republican majority leader McConnell appears inclined against it and was quoted as saying it should not be taken up before the presidential election next November, which would put it into 2017. Other TPP members want formal treaties to be signed as early as February. There is a time limit for adoption and a provision requiring a minimum number of member countries to ratify it. The Liberal Trudeau government has not indicated when or whether it will present a ratification bill to parliament. It is under extreme pressure from Big Labor to abandon the TPP or insist on renegotiating certain parts. It is also being lobbied by industry, business and agricultural interests that would benefit from access to TPP markets for early approval. No other member country has indicated it is willing to re-open the negotiations. (12/16/2015)


Despite the severe drought in Alberta and western Saskatchewan during the first half of the 2015 growing season, Statistics Canada reported that the harvest of most major crops exceeded that of 2014, in some cases by a wide margin, with several new production and yield records. Production of the seven major crops plus lentils and soybeans in western Canada was 61.19 million tonnes, up 15% from 53.20 million in the first 2015 report and 1% above 60.79 million in 2014. Canadian all-wheat production of 27.59 million tonnes was 6% less than in 2014 but 3.43 million tonnes or 14% more than in the first report in August. The durum wheat crop of 5.82 million tonnes was 22.5% larger than in 2014. However the Ontario wheat harvest was the smallest in at least a decade at 1.55 million tonnes, after a 12% drop in seeded area to 775,000 acres. Western barley production was estimated at 7.79 million tonnes, 16% larger with yields higher than in 2014 in all provinces. The canola harvest was estimated 17.10 million tonnes, up 20.5% from the 14.18 in the August report and the second-largest after 18.55 million in 2013. Average yield was 38.3 bushels per acre, up from 35.1 last year, and also the second-highest ever, after 40.6 in 2013. The Ontario corn harvest was 16% larger at 8.84 million tonnes despite a 10% acreage drop. Average yield was 170.6 bushels per acre, a record high and in line with yields in some high-output US corn states. The Quebec corn crop was 24% larger than last year at 3.83 million tonnes. Canadian soybean production of 6.24 million tonnes was up 3% from 2014, the seventh consecutive yearly record. Soybean production in Manitoba was 25% higher at 1.39 million tonnes and average yield was a record 37.0 bushels per acre, but acreage expansion stalled in Saskatchewan and slowed in Manitoba after several years of rapid increase. (12/10/2015)


The World Trade Organization announced after an arbitration process that Canada and Mexico can apply tariffs against imports from the US as retaliation for economic harm done by the US country-of-origin meat labelling law, known as COOL. However the amount permitted for Canada. $1.054 billion, was a third of what was requested. After nearly seven years since the original Canadian complaint, it was another failure of the WTO system to create and enforce workable international trade rules. The Canadian livestock industry expected the new government to act promptly to impose the duties to apply maximum pressure on the US to repeal the label law. However the Trudeau administration appears to be in no hurry, and the prime minister said he would rather not apply the sanctions and apparently intends to negotiate further with the US. (12/10/2015)


Statistics Canada on November 25 reported surprisingly upbeat gross farm income for the first nine months of 2015. Despite weakness in some crop prices and declining hog and cattle prices during the latest months, nine-month cash income was 1.6% above the year-ago 2014 period at $42.64 billion. Farm cash income for all of 2014 was a record $57.82 billion, up 4.7% from the prior year. By quarter, cash income was up 4.3% in the first quarter, down 3.1% in the second and up 3.5% in the third. National farm-gate receipts from crop sales rose 0.7% to $22.3 billion as large volumes continued to be sold and the eroding dollar exchange rate held up most prices. A 58% jump was reported in cash sales of lentils to a remarkable $960 million, making the pulse the fifth-highest-grossing crop for the period in Canada, exceeding durum wheat. Canola was the most valuable crop, bringing in $5.91 billion, up 6% from the 2014 nine months. In eastern Canada revenue from soybean sales rose 14% to $1.12 billion but lower prices slashed corn receipts by 25% to $1.05 billion. Farm cash income from livestock sales was 2% higher at $18.86 billion mainly on a 16% gain in cattle and calves, to $7.59 billion. Receipts by province with 2014 comparison in brackets, $billion: Alberta 10.16 (9.56); Saskatchewan 10.01 (9.41); Manitoba 4.44 (4.57); Ontario 8.71 (8.79). (11/26/2015)


The Quebec government is headed firmly in the direction of European and Ontario-style restrictions on certain pesticides, including neonicotinoid seed treatments. Like corn and soybean growers throughout North America, those in Quebec use neonic-treated seed on almost all corn and over half of soybeans, 1.2 million acres. The provincial government issued an environmentally aggressive pesticide strategy for the period 2015-18 and plans legislation to be introduced within six months to modernize its Pesticides Act. The strategy calls for extensive reviews of pesticide use well beyond neonic-treated seed. It proposes a total ban on the use of neonics for non-agricultural uses. It proposes restrictions on atrazine, which would be the first in North America, and on the chlorpyrifos group which includes such mainline products as Lorsban, Nufos and Citadel for cutworm, midge and grasshopper control. Quebec already has some of the oldest and most extreme regulations preventing or discouraging pesticide use in urban areas. Quebec is not a serious crop-producing or pesticide-using province but all such actions cumulatively could increase the pressure in other provinces to look at these issues. (11/25/2015)


US ethanol production set a record of 1.008 million barrels (42.3 million gallons) per day during the week ended November 20, up 33,000 barrels or 3% over the prior week. The old record was 994,000 barrels last June. Ethanol stocks increased by 400,000 barrels to 19.6 million, the highest since late July. Year-to-date production is 12.37 billion gallons vs 12.39 billion a year ago. (11/25/2015)


A USDA survey to gather information on farm land tenure, ownership and transition, the first since 1999, found that nearly 40% of all American farm land is rented. Over 2 million landowners last year rented out 354 million acres valued at $1.1 trillion; 87% of owners were not farm or ranch operators. Landlords collected $31 billion in rental payments and incurred ownership expenses of $9.2 billion. Debt related to land ownership was $33 billion, or 3% of asset value. About 10% of all US farm land will change ownership in the next five years. No comparable survey has been conducted in Canada but would probably show a similar trend in which farm land is gradually passing to non-farm owners. (11/24/2015)


According to the weekly reports of the Ag Transport Coalition, the railways supplied 84% of hopper cars in the required week during the 13th week of the crop year, and 8% a week early. At only 9% of cars arriving late, it is the best on-time performance in a long time, certainly in the history of the ATC weekly reports. It is the result of reduced demand, not operational or capacity improvements. Normally off-farm deliveries at this time of year would be well over a million tonnes a week; the latest four-week average is 885,000. However there is a big gap between the performance of the two major railways. Shippers captive to the CPR continue to get poorer service than competitors on CNR lines. In the latest week of the crop year CNR spotted 92% of cars at country points in the week for which they were needed and CPR 74%. CPR points had 1,042 outstanding orders and CNR 423. For non-bulk shipments, including special crops, the CNR filled 95% of car orders on time and the CPR 72%. Similar differences were seen in dwell times at country points (the time which loaded cars waited to be picked up). The CNR average for multi-car blocks was 14 hours to the vs 41 hours for the CPR. However for both railways in the crop year to date only 54% of loaded cars were taken away within 24 hours and 22% were still on sidings 48 hours after being loaded and released. The only area in which CPR outperformed the CNR was in dwell times at the destination (the time between arrival and unloading at terminals). CNR trains were unloaded an average of 81 hours after arrival at Thunder Bay and 23 hours at Vancouver compared to 28 and 12 hours for the CPR. (11/20/2015)


While some part of the Canadian public supports it, a substantial public backlash is developing against the new government's plan to import 25,000 refugees from the Middle East in 38 days. It takes someone unbelievably naive to think that among the 25,000 there will be not one with a fanatic ambition to harm Canada. Not all of those to be scooped up are refugees and not all are from Syria. TV images are surely representative and they show a big proportion to be unattached, able-bodied young men, exactly the demographic of terrorists, and of the group that should be defending their own countries and families instead of running away. Even if so many new entrants could be satisfactorily screened there would be a high risk. Would-be terrorists do not announce their intentions and are very good at concealing them, the more easily in an environment where positively establishing true identities is next to hopeless. Nor is establishing identity and a benign background any security against future criminality. Only sheer luck will prevent a some sort of incident. Some number of those whom the government is inviting see a path to the US, which is taking only 10,000 over two years. In the unthinkable eventuality that a terrorist incident is perpetrated by one of these refugees, in Canada or the US, it can be counted on that American controls on the Canadian border will be instantly clamped down to the extent that cross-border transport of goods and personal travel will be hampered possibly for decades to come. There is already a feeling on the US extreme right that the Canadian border should be treated exactly like the Mexican border. We don't need this. (11/20.2015) <

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