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Reports: Beef Demand and Cattle Inventory

by Levi A. Russell

A couple of recently-released reports provide some interesting observations about the state of the beef industry and some good news for the long run as well.

Beef Demand

First, a few of my colleagues at Kansas State and Purdue Universities have written an extensive report on many drivers of beef demand. Below I reproduce the Executive Summary, but the rest of the report is also informative:

Several key findings are of elevated importance:

1. Over the past decade, the quantity of beef consumers purchase has become less sensitive tochanges in beef prices yet more sensitive to consumer incomes. This could be a result of record high retail beef prices in recent years that resulted in loyal beef consumers, who are less price sensitive, having the strongest presence in the market. As consumer incomes have grown, more consumers who might have been priced out of the beef market, have allocated some of that income growth to purchase beef again thus increasing beef demand response to growing income.

2. The relative impact of pork and chicken prices on beef demand is economically small relative to other factors. This does not imply individual beef, pork, and chicken products are not substitutes, rather the substitutability in aggregate is just not as strong as traditionally thought.

3. Print media and medical journal coverage of topics around beef changes notably over time in areas of focus and volume of coverage. Certain types of media coverage are found to affect meat demand, and an emerging area of negative impact focuses on climate change. Having an impactful presence in the media is immensely important as it shapes perceptions.

4. Some demographic trends are favorable for beef demand including anticipated growth of Hispanic and African-American populations within the U.S.

Cattle Inventory

On January 31, the 2018 cattle inventory report was published by the USDA. This report compares inventory levels on January 1, 2018 to those of January 1, 2017. This report is a great opportunity to see what is happening on the national scale for cow-calf producers and in the feedlots.

This year’s report tells a familiar story: slow herd expansion. Nationwide, the herd has been expanding since hitting a bottom in 2014. The previous several years saw a decline due in part to serious drought in the western U.S. Expansion in the herd overall was only 1%, significantly slower than the previous few years. This was expected, as we’ve seen slaughter rates for beef heifers and cows pick up significantly in the last couple of years. This year’s report showed a 4% reduction in the number of heifers currently held as beef cow replacements, indicating that during 2018 we will likely see very little to almost no growth in the herd. Finally, the calf crop increased 2% relative to last year and the number of cattle on feed increased 7%. This pre-report commentary provides additional context to the report.

As we continued to see slower herd growth and some bright spots for beef demand, I’m cautiously optimistic that we will be able to maintain profitable calf prices and stocker margins through 2018. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at lrussell@uga.edu.

2017 Tax Reform Law and Agriculture

by Levi Russell

Last year an overhaul of the tax code was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump. We thought we would put together a resource page on the aspects of the law that will affect agricultural producers.

First, a rather lengthy article covering all aspects of the new law that will affect agricultural producers. This piece is written by Roger McEowen, an agricultural tax lawyer in Kansas. I have confirmed with the author that the information in this article is up to date.

Second is a post by another agricultural lawyer focusing primarily on the estate tax changes.

Finally, a 17 minute radio interview on major tax and agricultural law issues for the new year.

Beef Herd Expansion Possibilities

by Levi A. Russell

Board prices for feeders and fats have been quite strong in the past few months and Georgia producers have seen similarly strong prices in our cash markets, relative to seasonal expectations. The typical seasonal downward slide into October and November has not appeared and prices have been more or less flat since the summer. One of the threats to strong prices in coming years is a continuation of herd expansion.

David Widmar, an ag economics consultant with Agricultural Economic Insights, did a great job recently of digging into the state-level inventory numbers to see if we will see continued expansion through 2018. Ad Widmar notes, Texas cattle numbers made up a large percentage of the recent inventory decline and have also made up a large percentage of the recent increase in inventory. However, Texas has not fully recovered its previous inventory level, so there is still some growing room out there, indicating that we will likely see more herd expansion. You can read Widmar’s full analysis by clicking here.

This year, strong demand and low feed costs have helped buoy prices despite continued herd expansion. Time will tell if continued demand strength will absorb the price-reducing effect of larger beef supplies.

How big is this peanut crop?

by Adam N. Rabinowitz

The 2017 peanut harvest is well underway with over 70 percent of the Georgia crop dug and over 50 percent harvested.  While Hurricane Irma negatively impacted the cotton crop, there was no widespread negative impact on peanuts.  Both irrigated and dryland peanuts are looking good.

Peanut yields in Georgia and the rest of the peanut producing states will be up from last year with the big question being by how much and whether new records will be set.  USDA forecasts for the U.S. are for a yield of 4,257 pounds per acre with the GA yield at 4,700 pounds per acre, both of which would set new records.    With 1.9 million acres planted in the U.S. and 840 thousand acres planted in GA, this crop also has the potential to set a new record level of production.

A few questions have surfaced that are worth discussing as we wait for the harvest to be completed in the coming weeks.

  • Is there sufficient warehouse capacity to store the expected crop?
    As of mid-September there were 3.8 million tons of approved warehouse capacity in the U.S. with 1.9 million tons in GA.  At first look, this has the potential to create a shortage of warehouse space of about 118 thousand tons in the U.S. and about 12 thousand tons in GA.  However, expectations are that a worst case scenario would be a logistical issue and not a question of where to store these peanuts.  Coming into this harvest, warehouses have been basically empty and shellers are prepared to start moving the current crop through the system.  Combine that with a longer than typical planting season and the industry should have little problem in finding space for these peanuts.
  • What is the size of this crop going to do to market prices?
    This becomes a question of supply and demand.  Basic economics tells us that as the supply increases prices will be driven down.  There is little anyone can do to prevent the supply situation at this point, so one must look towards demand.  The industry needs to continue to look for opportunities to expand demand in order to maintain or increase prices.  We have seen domestic use of peanuts for food increase in recent years but there are few opportunities to impact consumer demand in a short period of time.  The greatest opportunity for finding a market for this crop is through increased exports.  Through August, total U.S. exports have been down compared to last year, and this is likely due to prices that increased late last year.  While it is likely that exports will pick up, there is little indication that it will be without a drop in price.  Right now the market is waiting to see how large this crop will be and that will determine how low the price will go to move this crop.  Even with exports forecast to increase from last year, the ending stock created by this crop is expected to reach the heights of 2012.  The industry needs to find a home for these peanuts as prices will be impacted until this surplus can be moved.

So the big question of course is whether the crop will meet these yield expectations.  We really won’t know until the harvest is complete but we can look at some of the historical USDA projections to get an idea of how accurate they have been in forecasting yields.

As can be seen in the figure above, the blue line represents the actual yield in GA and the orange line represents the October forecast yield released by the USDA.  This graph starts in 2006 which was when Georgia-06g was released.  This variety currently represents about 80 percent of the peanuts planted in GA.  We can see that every year, except the last two years, the USDA October forecast was less than the actual final yields.  Generally this would project a very favorable expectation on the USDA forecast model as typically underestimating yields.  There is further evidence of underestimating in 2012 when there was a big spike in yield such as is expected this year.  The two most recent years when the USDA overestimated yields were during a period of a downward trend from the peak.  It will be interesting to see what the final yield number is for 2017 and how that compares to the current forecast of 4,700 pounds per acre.  This is certainly a big spike in yield from our actual 2016 yield of 3,900 pounds per acre, but with no major crop and weather issues this year it might just be achievable.

Lenders Indicate Increase in Non-Performing Loans

by Brady Brewer

In a recent survey of agricultural lenders from across the nation conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and Kansas State University, agricultural lenders indicated that non-performing loans increased and lenders expected this pattern to continue in the short and long term (Brewer et al., 2017). Agricultural lenders were asked if they experienced an increase in non-performing loans in their loan service territory over the past three months as well as their expectations for non-performing loans over the short and long term for their loan service territory. This expectation is the strongest reported by agricultural lenders in the past two years. Lenders reported an increase in non-performing loans for total farm loans (see graph), farm real-estate loans, and operating loans. This expectation of increased delinquency represents deteriorating cash reserves farmers have given lower net farm incomes experienced nationally.

 

 

The first step for farmers that may be at risk of becoming delinquent or past due on notes is to calculate their working capital position. Working capital is the amount of cash or near cash assets on hand after all current liabilities (e.g. expenses, current portions of long term debts) are paid. Working capital can be seen as the buffer for a farm to absorb any short term losses. It can also be seen as a measure of financial risk for the farm. The greater the working capital, the less financial risk a farm has.

Farmers who are experiencing liquidity or working capital issues should implement strategies to prolong cash reserves for as long as possible. These strategies include: negotiating any long term leases, a thorough review of all operating expenses, prioritizing asset purchases, culling of old or unproductive assets, and sharing of assets if possible. These strategies will help minimize losses and make the farm more efficient in hopes of bolstering the working capital positions of farmers.

It is also important that farmers be open and up front with their lenders concerning any possible late payments or cash flow issues that may hinder loan repayment. Lenders have reported that they are more flexible with farmers who provide advanced notice of financial issues. This provides the agricultural lender time to develop a plan that could be mutually beneficial for both the farmer and lender.

Southern Outlook Conference Presentations Available

by Levi Russell

Last week in Atlanta Extension economists, lenders, and ag media met in Atlanta to discuss the market and policy outlook for agricultural commodities in the Southeast in the coming year. UGA economists presented the outlook for peanuts, timber, turfgrass, the green industry, cotton, poultry, and hogs. All presentations are available here. Feel free to contact us with questions about the presentations.

Use Accrual Accounting to Better Gauge Farm Profitability

By Amanda R. Smith

Most farmers are familiar with the method of cash-based accounting. With cash-based accounting, a farmer records income when they receive a cash payment for their crops, animals or animal products. Furthermore, they record an expense when a payment is made by the farmer to the input supplier (fertilizer dealer, seed company, etc.). Cash-based accounting does not value accounts receivables and inventories as income, nor accounts payable as expenses, until cash is exchanged.

Accrual accounting, on the other hand, means a farmer records an income or expense transaction when it is incurred, regardless of when cash is exchanged. To expand on this, the accrual method records the income of the farm in the year it was produced by the farmer and also records the expenses incurred in producing that income. Accrual income can include cash from the sale of products, accounts receivables for products sold, and inventories of crops and livestock produced. Expenses measure the costs incurred to generate income for the year and may occur with or without an actual cash payment (accounts payable). Accrual accounting essentially matches income earned to expenses incurred, giving a more realistic reflection of net income for the year. Net income indicates profitability of the farm.

Cash-based accounting can be useful for managing taxes. For example, a farmer pays for his fertilizer and chemicals in October of year 1. These are considered expenses that lower taxable income in year 1. If the farmer has storage capabilities and sells their crop during January of year 2, that sales transaction will be considered taxable income in year 2 (not year 1).

The IRS allows farms to choose between cash-based or accrual accounting. A few exceptions apply; a family corporation with gross receipts over $25,000,000 must use accrual methods for taxes. Refer to IRS Publication 225, Farmer’s Tax Guide, for more information.

Despite the tax benefits of cash-based accounting, it does not give a clear picture of long-term farm financial health and profitability. Cash expenses for inputs may be pre-paid and revenues from last year’s crop might show up as income this year. This creates a lag in knowing if the farm was profitable during the year. Farmers can use cash-based accounting for tax purposes, but should also keep an accrual-based record to gauge the profitability of the farm from year-to-year.

Feedlot Conditions and Beef Prices

by Levi Russell

Any time I discuss economic conditions in the industry, I try to be as faithful as I can to forecasts and current conditions and avoid undue pessimism or optimism. The beef cattle industry from pastures to processors has had a pretty good year so far in terms of prices, international trade, and consumer demand. That said, one of the clearest threats to cow-calf producers in coming months is the potential for a slowdown in feedlot placements. Feedlot profitability (not considering any price risk management) has moved into the red recently, which will likely push feeder prices down. However, there is a more long-term issue to deal with: beef prices.

Lower Beef Prices

Based on forecasts of beef, pork, and poultry production for the next 18 months, we could see some downward pressure in beef prices. Indeed, we’ve already seen some weakness in wholesale beef prices in the last couple of months. If these trends continue, price reductions will eventually make their way to fat steers, then to feeders and, finally, calves. For cow-calf producers, the feedlot sector in particular is of concern. Feedlot placements have been significantly higher for much of this year compared with the same months in 2016. Feedlot marketings have kept pace with placements such that the number of feeders lingering in feedlots longer than 90 days has stayed relatively low. Though this is expected as beef cattle inventories have recovered over the past few years, this accelerated placement pace will not be sustainable if we start to see price weakness for fat steers.

In 2017, U.S. beef production will be at its highest level since 2010. It remains to be seen just how much beef consumers are willing to purchase, but we will find out over the next 18 months.

Planted Acres vs Base Acres

by Adam Rabinowitz

There have been some comments from policymakers regarding the upcoming farm bill and the debate between planted acres and base acres.  Here is an explanation as to why base acres have been used and the potential impact of using planted acres.

The 2014 Farm Bill contains provisions for Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) commodity programs that are tied to a “base acreage” for which to compute payments. Base acres for a particular Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm depend on the past decisions by the farm to reflect either 1991-1995, 1998-2001, or 2009-2012 planted acres. Regardless of the specific base acreage determination, the common point among the commodity programs and farms is that base acreage is determined on historical planted acreage and not current year planted acreage. There are two main concerns over computing safety net program payments on current planted acres.

  1. Payments made on current planted acres means that newly planted acres are eligible for payments. This has the potential to distort market prices because planting decisions will be directly impacted by the eligibility for program payments. As planted acres increase, the market price will decrease, resulting in increased program payments, which may continue to perpetuate into a further increase in acreage, payments, etc.
  2. World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements contain limits on trade-distorting domestic support. When government safety net payments are tied to planted acres they would likely be reported as product specific crop commodity program payments. Product specific payments are viewed as potentially trade-distorting and thus subject to WTO limits.

Historical base acres have thus been used to mitigate the potential negative market distortion from government programs and potential violation of trade agreements. By determining safety net program payments on historical acreage, there is little (if any) incentive to make planting decisions based on the ability to receive government payments. With current safety net payments being issued in October of the following year after harvest, there is an even greater disconnect between planting decisions and government payments. Furthermore, ensuring that agricultural commodities maintain compliance with trade agreements is critical for continued expansion of demand and access to foreign markets for U.S. farmers.