Grain Prices Weaken, But a Volatile Summer Lies Ahead

Published on: 11:44AM Jun 27, 2011

All eyes will be on USDA’s Planted Acres and Quarterly Stocks reports June 30, which could definitely be a market mover for dairy prices.


There has certainly been significant concern in the grain markets so far this year. In much of the Midwest and Northeast, there have been abundant snowmelt and rainfall resulting in flooding. Homes and farmland have been under water and are still under water. Continued rainfall resulted in delayed planting as well as causing the abandonment of fields. In the Southeast and Southwest, there are very dry conditions affecting crop and pasture growth. Much of what is taking place seems to be very similar to last year.

These weather problems, combined with strong demand, sent corn prices to new highs, with some projections topping $10 per bu. Certainly, lower planted acreage and reduced yield from lack of rain would affect yield and prices. The most recent World Agricultural Supply and Demand (WASDE) report supported this idea. USDA left ending stocks for the current marketing year unchanged at 730 million bushels. Furthermore, it reduced the ending stocks for next year to 695 million bushels, which would be the tightest stocks since the 1995/96 crop year. This certainly did not bode well for food prices, feed prices and profitability.

Interestingly enough, corn and soybean prices topped that day and have virtually declined ever since. Despite the weather problems and less planted acreage, weather in the Midwest has nearly been ideal for growth. States in the Midwest generally dictate the overall market sentiment during the growing season.

In the end, corn and soybean planting progress caught up to the previous year and five-year average, with crop conditions nearly right where they were last year. The question will be how many acres did get planted and what yield projections will be on those acres given those crop conditions. No doubt grain prices will be high this year, but both corn and soybean futures have fallen nearly $1 per bu. since the release of the WASDE report.

USDA will release its Planted Acres and Quarterly Stocks report June 30, which could definitely be a market mover. This will give the industry numbers to work with, along with current crop conditions to make yield and carryover projections.

The current grain futures price movement is a blessing in light of strong milk prices. June Federal Order class prices will be released on Friday, with the trade expecting a Class III price around $19.20 per cwt., while futures are projecting a July price over $20.00. If the current July price at the time of this writing were to be realized, it would be the highest price since December 2007. Of course, a lot can happen over the course of the three weeks, as July is currently being priced by the trade.

However, to put this in perspective, March corn futures in January 2008 were around $4.60 per bu. when the class prices were released. Currently, corn futures are around $6.70. So, although weaker grain prices are welcomed, it is a far cry from where the milk/feed ratio was the last time milk prices were at current levels.

Cheese prices have been strong, and both buyers and sellers are comfortable at current levels. However, buyers are not very interested in pushing prices much higher. It seems like a plateau has been reached. A decreasing butter and nonfat dry milk price suggests demand is being met. The benefit of milk movement to butter/powder versus cheese is now becoming more balanced with Class III and Class IV prices closer together.

May cold storage showed American cheese stocks decreasing from the previous month, although still remaining higher than a year ago. Stocks have had a difficult time increasing this year compared to previous years. Demand has remained strong, leaving limited supply to build inventory. This is good as inventory still is higher than it was in 1986. Total cheese stocks increased on the latest report, which is large at 1.048 billion pounds, but certainly did not increase as much as usual.

There is a lot of year yet to unfold. Let’s savor the high milk prices of the present and protect the milk prices for later. Consider using fence positions consisting of the purchase of put options and the sale of call options to allow for upside potential to the level the call option was sold. A lot can happen, and we do not want to let prices slip away if demand slows and supply becomes more plentiful.

Upcoming reports:

  • Agricultural prices report on June 29
  • June federal order class prices on July 1
  • California 4a/4b prices on July 1
  • Dairy Products report on July 5
  • Fonterra auction on July 5
  • California Class I price on July 11
  • World Agricultural Supply and Demand report on July 12


Robin Schmahl is a commodity broker and owner of AgDairy LLC, a full-service commodity brokerage firm located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He can be reached at 877-256-3253 or through their website at

The thoughts expressed and the data from which they are drawn are believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. Any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. There is risk of loss in trading and my not be suitable for everyone. Those acting on this information are responsible for their own actions.