March 3, 2017 - A bright spot on U.S. supply/demand balance sheets for both corn and soybeans this marketing year is export demand. Strong export demand is welcome anytime, but particularly in a year such as this when supplies of both commodities are high following last fall's record corn and soybean harvests.
Corn exports are currently projected by the USDA to be 2.225 billion bushels, or 327 million bushels greater than a year ago. This year's projection, if realized, would be the highest level since 2007/2008 when exports totaled 2.436 billion bushels. A year ago, Mexico supplanted Japan as the top buyer of U.S. corn. Mexican demand for U.S. corn has been steadily increasing during recent years with imports 60 percent higher during 2016 than in 2011. Total U.S. corn exports to Mexico during calendar year 2016 were just under 550 million bushels. Obviously, Mexico is an important customer of the U.S. farmer which makes the ongoing U.S./Mexican "spat" a significant concern. Mexico is threatening to replace U.S. imports with South American supplies and has been talking to Argentine and Brazilian officials about that possibility. The issue for Mexico is that the economics don't currently work. The cost of shipping South American corn to Mexico is higher than that for shipping U.S. corn to Mexico due to the huge differences in distances. The distance from New Orleans to the port of Veracruz Mexico is approximately 1100 nautical miles vs. 6700 nautical miles from Paranagua Brazil to Veracruz. This currently adds roughly 55 cents per bushel additional shipping costs to the Brazilian corn. Further complicating the issue is the fact that nearly half of U.S. corn exports to Mexico are railed to end users. The cost and logistics of replacing rail corn with corn moved from a port would be a major headache for Mexican users. It doesn't currently look like Mexico will be able to replace much U.S. corn due to the cost and logistical issues, but it may buy some other origins just to "make a point".
Soybean exports for 2016/17 are projected at a record high 2.050 billion bushels which is just over 100 million bushels more than the previous record set a year ago. China remains far and away the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans with Mexico a distant second. Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Netherlands are other significant importers of U.S. soybeans. The USDA has issued its initial projections for 2017/18 exports with corn decreasing to 1.90 billion bushels and soybeans increasing to 2.125 billion bushels. As always, initial projections and ultimate results can differ considerably.
Hugh Whalen is a Senior Commodity Risk Consultant with MID-CO COMMODITIES, INC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.