Pork Commentary: Corn Price Shock

CANADA - This week's North American Pork Commentary from Jim Long.
calendar icon 13 October 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

It was the Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend. There were lots to be thankful for, but one item that as hog producers we did not feel thankful for was the USDA Corn Crop estimate that was released last Friday.

The USDA forecasted US corn production at 12.664 billion bushels, down 3.8 per cent from 13.16 billion production forecast last month. The average expert guess was 12.95 billion bushels prior to the report. Corn a bushel by Monday afternoon had gone up to $5.60 a bushel with talk of $7.00 a bushel being put out there by the corn bulls.

The USDA is now projecting the ending US corn inventory at 902 million bushels. The USDA is now forecasting for this market year an average cash price of around $5.00 bushel – up 60 cents from last month’s forecast.

  • The corn price move over the last couple of months higher has increased swine cost of production approximately $15.00 per head which is a real margin implosion.

  • It will be interesting if higher feed prices put downward pressure on slaughter weights. In our opinion, this might lower weights slightly but when packer grids continue to encourage heavier weights there will be little buyer encouragement.

  • We expect these higher feed prices will be a major factor in curtailing much thought of sow herd expansion. Bankers already reluctant to lend money to swine production will see this jump in feed prices as a great reason to keep the brakes on funding swine projects.

  • When grain producers see $5.00 corn it makes them less interested in feeding hogs. This will take the edge off small pig demand unless lean hog futures push over $90 which is not inconceivable when June lean hogs Monday were $86.50 per pound. With $5.00 corn breakevens are approaching 80 cents lean per pound.

  • The corn ethanol subsidization by the US government continues to be a testament to government policy gone astray. A policy of burning our food to fuel our cars is continuing to disrupt the global food network with little environmental benefit. It will be interesting how $5.00 corn works in corn ethanol production. Last time there was a corn price spike some corn ethanol producers went broke and failed to pay their farmers for their corn.

In the coming weeks, the Southern Hemisphere crops will be planted. Strong grain prices will certainly encourage plantings. You wonder at what point the USDA will stop funding land not to be planted. It’s a rich society that subsidizes corn ethanol at the same time it pays for millions of acres of land not to be planted. In the coming weeks we expect wild gyrations in grain prices as Chicago traders get their Christmas early.

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