Market to Market (December 6, 2019)

Dec 6, 2019  | 27 min  | Ep4516

Coming up on Market to Market -- Japan gives U.S. farmers an early holiday gift. An East Coast matchmaker puts farmers and landowners together. And commodity market analysis with Sue Martin, next.

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Pioneer Hi-Bred International is a proud sponsor of Market to Market. 

 

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Tomorrow. For over 100 years we have worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today. 

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Accu-Steel, offering fabric covered buildings specifically designed for the cattle industry since 2001. The next generation of cattle buildings. Information at accusteel.com.       

Sukup Manufacturing Company – providing equipment and buildings to store and condition grain to help farmers adjust to market swings. We build drying, moving and storage equipment designed to preserve the quality of their crops. Sukup Manufacturing, store now, profit later.   

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This is the Friday, December 6 edition of Market to Market, the Weekly Journal of Rural America.

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Hello, I’m Delaney Howell.

Agriculture continues to wait for a deal with China. As the negotiation roller-coaster ride continues, the trade war is putting a drag on some but not all sectors of the economy. --

The unemployment rate returned to a five-decade low of 3.5 percent as 266,000 jobs were added.  About 45,000 of those new jobs were striking auto-workers returning to work.

Trade wars and a slowing global economy pushed the Mid-America Business Conditions Index below growth neutral to a three-year low. 

Imports and exports have fallen in the wake of those trade wars. In October, the trade deficit fell 7.6 percent leaving the gap at a 17-month low of $47.2 billion. ---

At the beginning of the week, President Trump threatened to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina.

A few days later, he got a deal with a favored U.S. trading partner.

Paul Yeager has our trade roundup.

The week of trade news started with a working Thanksgiving holiday as Canada’s trade minister came to Washington, D.C. and was joined by contemporaries from Mexico. The three nations are trying to finalize the USMCA agreement.

Supporters of the pact would like to see the U.S. Congress sign-off by year’s end. However, the clock is ticking as House Democrats continue to ask for language adjustments involving labor and safety.

Advocates for reworking the 90’s-era NAFTA renewed efforts for ratification via press releases and conference calls. The group is touting improved opportunities for American farmers and factory workers.  

Sen. Charles Grassley, R – Iowa: “So there's everything good about it, plus a whole bunch of things that need to be negotiated now that were not in NAFTA, because they didn't even exist at the time and after like digital trade is an example. Intellectual property is another example. So it's very important that we get this done.”

Japan’s Parliament delivered a win for U.S. producers by ratifying a trade deal that paves the way for import of American beef and other agricultural goods.

Japan imports $14 billion in U.S. farm products annually and is America’s third-largest market. President Trump said when the deal was reached back in September, tariffs would be scrapped or lowered on American beef, pork, wheat, cheese, corn and wine.

The Japanese have long had protectionist policies on agricultural imports. Likewise, the U.S. has targets of its own including a 2.5 percent import tariff on Japanese cars.

Talks will continue between the two nations with a larger focus on U.S. automobile imports.

The president took a global trade message to NATO meetings this week. During public appearances with German and French leadership, global trade, again, became part of the conversation. 

Mixed messages on both sides of the China trade deal were common this week. The past 17 months have seen the world’s top two economies locked in the biggest global trade war since the 1930’s. One of the latest Trump Administration barbs accuses Beijing of cheating to become an economic power.

In October, the two sides agreed to a modest breakthrough still leaving thorny issues on the vine. The Chinese pledged to buy more American farm exports while Trump agreed to hold-off on raising tariff levels.

The president has said the Phase 1 agreement will likely come after the 2020 presidential election. But hours later, a report said otherwise.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R – Iowa: “I can only conclude that this President statements is to put pressure on China. I think that I've, in the last two weeks heard so many positive things coming out of Beijing, about reaching agreement, particularly inviting Lighthizer and Mnuchin over to Beijing again, to nail things down.”

For Market to Market, I’m Paul Yeager.

Federal government statistics show there are just over 2 million farms. About one-quarter of those operations are run by new farmers.

Those who have chosen agriculture as a way of life know it’s often difficult to get started.

There is at least one group acting as a matchmaker between land owners leaving the day-to-day business and the next wave hoping to get their turn in the dirt.  

Peter Tubbs has more in our Cover Story.

Maurice Ramsay harvests amaranth on a farm he rents near Brooklyn, Connecticut. A native of Jamaica, Maurice grows the plant for the Caribbean population living in the region which is unable to find much of the produce it needs for Caribbean cooking.

Maurice Ramsay, Beginning farmer “just didn't have enough variety for as far as the stuff I'm used to back home and the stuff that I could get. I wasn't pleased with the quality, so I decided I was going to grow my own.”

 

Ramsay has spent a career in the food industry, and currently manages a fast food chain restaurant. The opportunity to fill a produce niche began a search for a farm. But finding ground to rent was the biggest hurdle to his start in agriculture. This farm requires a 45 minute commute, each way.

Maurice Ramsay, Beginning farmer “land is a lot more expensive in Connecticut. …..  I was working and I thought I wouldn't be able to farm but something just told me not to give up. I kept trying and then I was searching for land online all the time.”

Farm Link is an online tool from Connecticut Farmland Trust which matched Ramsay to a farm with high tunnels for rent. Farm Link assists farmers who are looking for land and matches their agricultural interests with land owners. Over 70 percent of seekers who rent through Farm Link are considered beginning farmers.

Maurice Ramsay, Beginning farmer: “I saw greenhouse, I got a little bit excited because, uh, I am chatting, I'm growing tropical called plants, you know, so, uh, so I gave her a call and she told me to come up and take a look at the farm. I came up and I took a look at a farm. I thought she was the awesome lady. She was really kind, smiled a lot like myself. And, uh, uh, the rest is history. I, uh, told her that I wanted it and she said, let's go for it.”

Sandy Broder and her husband had built the tunnels to raise vegetables, but were ready to step back from that side of their operation.

Sandy Broder, landowner:  “So somebody told me about Farm Trust and I would put an ad in there and said I had two high tunnels. And that's as a maybe a total of two acres of land. Um, and if anybody was interested in coming to try it out, it was here. Maurice called me and it's been a good match since then.”

The Broders hoped to find a renter who was looking for a start in agriculture.

Sandy Broder, landowner: “A lot of farmers around here are getting too old to continue farming. So do you sell your house and your, your farm to a development or something or do you want to keep it in the farm? And if you do, how can you do that? Well, farm trust is a great help because we've got 125 acres here and when we're not doing hay anymore, we want to be able to keep it as a farm.” 

USDA data show that less than 10 percent of the state of Connecticut is farmland and only half of that measure gets harvested every year. The 122,000 acres in production are a scarce resource in the state. Plots of 10 to 40 acres, the size of a typical operation in the state, can be hard to match with renters looking for ground. 

Connecticutt Farm Link helps make the match between landowners and new farmers by bridging the needs of the potential renter with the wishes of the land owner.

Kip Kolesinskas, Connecticut Farmland Trust: “this is the first time in our nation's history that the majority of landowners are more than two generations from a farm. So they don't know what they don't know. So, and in some cases they don't even have the vocabulary to have a discussion with the farm seeker. So in some cases we can act as that translator.” 

The organization also assists land owners in setting a trust so they can pass ownership on to future generations. After two decades of pairing landowners and farmers, experience has taught CFT officials how to ensure the legal instructions for the property are kept open to the largest number of potential uses.

Lily Orr manages the Farm Link program, as well as the group’s easement and trust programs.

Lily Orr, CT Farm Trust: “Because a lot of it is about, you know, if you're a seeker, it's what your desires and what your needs and what your goals are for your farm. Whereas if you're a farm land owner, it's explaining your farm operation, um, or the potential or the history of agriculture on your land. So a lot of people don't know how to put that stuff into words.”

Kip Kolesinskas, Connecticut Farmland Trust: ”So their ability to really even assess a piece of property to know its suitability for different kinds of agriculture, let alone try to figure out whether a farm seeker has the knowledge and has the right kind of business that's going to be a good match with their property.” 

Connecticut also has the highest percentage of beginning farmers over the age of 45. Maurice Ramsay falls into that category, and the two acres of land he can afford have him farming only part-time. The niche quality of Caribbean crops has resulted in growing demand produce like amaranth and Scotch peppers. Ramsay serves grocery stores and restaurants in both Connecticut and New York City. 

Maurice Ramsay, Beginning farmer “right now my customers are uh, the Caribbean community. I would say for the most part, but uh, it is growing. It is becoming a little bit more mainstream as people are trying to eat healthier. They are looking for other options and um, the cuisine is also itself is also catching on. 

As his second season on the Broder farm winds down, Ramsay sees full-time farming on the horizon. The Broders are happy to have the high tunnels being used, and a new generation working in agriculture.

Sandy Broder, landowner: “I didn't want those things sitting out there idle and this way I'm, I'm able to give something back to somebody else too. So it's a good thing”

Maurice Ramsay, Beginning farmer “And I, I just, and after a while you start liking the smell of the dirt. You start missing it. It's a weird, I mean, you know, how'd you explain? How do you say that to the average person?”

For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs.

Next, the Market to Market report.

On Friday, the Chinese Finance Ministry said it would waive tariffs on U.S. soybeans and pork products. The details of the offer were limited as the commodity markets worked through the news. For the week, March wheat fell 17 cents, while the nearby corn contract dropped a nickel. Big questions like total tonnage and how buyers apply for exemptions were missing from the Chinese statement. The news had little to do with the 13 cent gain in the January contract. January meal moved $6.20 per ton higher. March cotton improved 74 cents per hundredweight. Over in the dairy parlor, January Class III milk futures lost 13 cents. The livestock sector finished on a low note. The February cattle contract shed $1.22 and January feeders cut 73 cents. The February lean hog contract dropped 63 cents. In the currency markets, the U.S. Dollar index lost 50 ticks. January crude oil expanded $3.99 per barrel. COMEX Gold fell $7.90 per ounce.  And the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index gained more than 11 points to finish at 421.45. Joining us now to offer insight on these and other trends is one of our regular market analysts, Sue Martin. Sue, welcome back.

Martin: Thank you, Delaney, it's nice to be back.

Howell: Sue, wheat had a very rough week this week. Why the selloff midweek?

Martin: Well, I think wheat got itself a little overbought. The spread between Chicago and Minneapolis had gotten extremely inverted. It doesn't happen often but when it does it doesn't usually last super long and then you see huge corrections in the other direction towards Minneapolis. I think also one thing that weighed on wheat was the fact that there is a seasonality where early December you buy soybeans and sell wheat. And I think that too, your seasonal traders were hitting into that spread. But it was more of an overbought condition than anything.

Howell: Sue, was it seasonality or is it seasonality that is putting corn not far from our lows? Or is there potential here to do some sideways trading? What's going on?

Martin: Well, corn is kind of disappointed because it's not getting much in the export business news. And because of that it is kind of dullsville I guess, it's just kind of caught in a flux. It didn't follow wheat higher by very much and likewise it was catching pressure at that time from a selloff in soybeans. So it was kind of caught between the two and there was no news to really send it running higher. And in the meantime we continue to have an extended harvest, which we should be probably around 96%, maybe 97% harvested I'm thinking on Monday. But that harvest pressure, that late crop that a lot of times goes to the elevator that creates hedge pressure. And so it's a combination of several things but huge disappointment the fact that we just can't garner a pick-up in export sales.

Howell: And Sue, since you opened the door there on the harvest I want to ask just your brief thoughts. We've got another WASDE report coming out next week. Is there any reason to see the USDA change numbers when it comes to corn or soybean acreage or yield?

Martin: Well, they tend to not do that in the December report. It will come in January in the final. I think what everybody is looking towards is because exports have been so poor we may see another drop in export total for the year expectation by the USDA and because of that that will probably ramp up the carryout just a little. The December reports tend to not be big market movers and so because of that I don't think we're expecting a whole lot. Argentine production maybe stays about the same. If anything it would drop a little. They're still in the process of planting. And then you look at Brazil and they keep talking about the rains that they're catching. What is interesting is when you look at vegetative maps they look brown, a chunk of Brazil and Argentina has brown in it, and I'm thinking why when they're supposedly catching all these rains through the forecast. It's almost like hope springs eternal and we keep talking about the rain and the forecasts of the GFS or the European and that they're going to keep catching rains, 85% coverage, what have you. If that is the case then these vegetative maps should start showing changes.

Howell: Sue, I want to take a quick social media question here looking at corn new crop prices before we transition to talking about soybeans from Mitch in Hull, Iowa. What price targets should producers have in mind for new crop 2020 corn?

Martin: Well, it's interesting you ask that because it's kind of quirky. I always look at a year of like years ending in a certain number and of course I have looked at the years ending in a zero. They're not too far different than a year ending in a nine as far as pattern goes. What's interesting is it shows new crop extremes, either you're going to have your highs for the year in November/December or you're going to have your lows for the year in November/December. So then I added in China, and I don't know what, it was just a quirky thought, I looked at years where, you're the year of the rat. It's kind of interesting because when they had the year of the pig they had African swine fever. Now we're into the year of the rat coming up and to me that sounds like a bad name, but to them it means wealth. And so I looked at corn prices and I didn't go as far back as I could have. The year of a rat happens every 12 years. And so I started in 1972 and started forward looking at every year of a rat. Ironically it fits the pattern of a year of a zero. So then I thought okay, there's one other thing this market feels like. I've been in this market a long time and I got into it when things started getting exciting back in the early '70s, this feels like the early 70s all over again to me which is good news for farmers. And it started off back in the early '70s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz was working, getting us out of the storage, the government out of storing grain and then you had Russia come in and they kind of cleaned house when it was all said and done and we had a grain robbery.

Howell: You've talked about that a lot on the show.

Martin: Yes, and I think that is what we're going to end up seeing with China when it's all said and done. And it will be inflationary. So I went back to the year of 1970 because '69 was kind of on the edge of it, but '70, '71, '72 was where we really started getting that shift and then of course we had a weather market in '73. But what happened was the market performed very similar to a year of a zero. I thought that was rather interesting.

Howell: That is very interesting. Sue, I hate to move you right along here but we've got to talk about the soybean markets. They have had a 90 plus cent drop since harvest highs here. Are we starting to form a bottom here?

Martin: Yes we are. The indicators are extremely overdone and they haven't even really gained a whole lot and we've added 20 cents back on. I think we closed higher for the week and so that should portend higher highs this next week, even before we fall back, but many times there is that old saying, the bears get their turkey for Thanksgiving and the bulls will get it for Christmas or vice versa. In this case it looks like the bull may get his chance. And then with all the talk, the 15th is when President Trump had said he would add $160 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese products and China doesn't want that. And so they're making some innuendos, efforts, good faith statements. But the market this next week is going to be more I think pro--positive than negative but then come Friday it will be like okay guys, what are you doing to do? Are you going to carry your positions over the weekend and take a chance? Or are you going to take your money and go home and see what happens? I think that when we come push to shove I think President Trump will not put the tariffs on.

Howell: Hopefully delay those a little bit longer for producers.

Martin: Yes, I think he'll kick that can down the road. Will he roll back tariffs on the other original products? I don' think so because of the fact we still have phase two and three and I just don't see him being willing. I think he said originally he would not take tariffs off until this was a done deal. This is only one phase.

Howell: It is. Still something to continue watching. Sue. Looking at the cattle complex we saw some pullback this week. Is there some consolidation going on right now in the live cattle industry?

Martin: Well, it seems like it in the futures, we're just not going anywhere, it's like we're in this narrow range, maybe about $5 from low to the highest that we've gotten so far. But I've noticed we have some trending indicators that we watch or averages and they're, on the February cattle they're both just kissing about ready to roll over. That's concerning because that could portend a nice little dicey break here and it's not uncommon to break and put lows in around the 5th to the 8th or 9th of December and we're right in that window. But the other thing is we have indicators that we really, really like on cattle and they are extremely low and have turned positive on feeders I believe, two out of three are positive for sure and then one is very close. On fats they are just in a heartbeat of turning positive too. So they're almost overdone. But until they turn positive anything can happen here. So we have not sold it short. But we haven't bought it either. We're waiting to buy. I think that we have a chance -- here's another thing, we're having a, we should kill this week 670,000 plus head of cattle.

Howell: Which is friendly.

Martin: Yes it is for the first week of December. And if you go back and look at years since 2000 and even in 1996 which was a high grain price year, I went back and I looked at February cattle futures in all those years and every one of them saw February cattle move very nicely making higher highs. There might have been some break in there but it came right back out of it and make higher highs into February. So I think we have a chance for February cattle to make it up towards $130. This year's high was a little over $130 with the April contract. I think that we have a chance to try to come back and push towards that.

Howell: Higher highs. All right, in the live cattle markets. Sue, what about in the lean hog markets? Is this U.S./China trade announcement of China lifting some waivers here on U.S. hogs going to be the action we need to spur prices higher?

Martin: Well, this is kind of quirky but I thought today when I was reading the news, I thought pork and beans, that would be a Campbell's thing. Anyway, I look at hogs and I think the biggest problem they have had is everybody has been jumping on the bandwagon too easily and probably the small trader as easily as anyone. That is not the right mix. You have to have the smart money there first and then everybody else kind of comes along. And we knew all along, we really had to guess all along that China was getting pork when Shuanghui owns Smithfield. It would just be, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to think and now we finally get that information that yes they have been shipping pork and they aren't the only ones, there's others that have been doing it too. So they have been catching a fair amount of pork. And pork prices, pig prices in China are up 159% from January to current and it's a huge thing. And so fundamentally you go forward down the road and it should be positive. I think it's positive to all proteins actually. So when I look at hogs on a weekly chart bullish consensus is down to 14%. That's pretty low. That means that most of the trade is bearish or trading more bearishly inclined and therefore it's about the lowest since I think August of 2009, maybe 2015 or '05.

Howell: Sue, I'm going to cut you off right there. I'm going to save the rest of your answer for Market Plus so more people will tune in then. Thank you so much.

Martin: Thank you.

Howell: That wraps up the broadcast portion of Market to Market. But we will keep this conversation going on Market Plus where we’ll answer more of your questions. You can find it on our website at Market-to-Market.org. Also on our site are links to our YouTube page so you can see all our videos we produce in one location. Or just search YouTube.com/Market to Market. Join us next week when peel back the layers to look at falling protein levels in soybeans. So until then, thanks for watching and have a great week!

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Market to Market is a production of Iowa PBS which is solely responsible for its content.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International is a proud sponsor of Market to Market. 

 

(music)

Tomorrow. For over 100 years we have worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today. 

(music) 

Accu-Steel, offering fabric covered buildings specifically designed for the cattle industry since 2001. The next generation of cattle buildings. Information at accusteel.com.       

Sukup Manufacturing Company – providing equipment and buildings to store and condition grain to help farmers adjust to market swings. We build drying, moving and storage equipment designed to preserve the quality of their crops. Sukup Manufacturing, store now, profit later.   

 

Grinnell Mutual Insurance
Sukup
Accu-Steel
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