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U.S. corn crop off to better start than last year; large crop anticipated

For the second year in a row, U.S. farmers planted crops through some adverse weather, and in the process they again surprised many grain and crop analysts who were expecting fewer planted acres.

 In fact, the average of all analysts estimates predicted corn hectares would be 1.2 million hectares (3.0 million acres) less than the final USDA survey of farmers reported in June:  35.2 million hectares (87.0 million acres) planted.

 The 35.2 million hectares of corn plantings is the second largest in the United States since 1946, behind only 2007 plantings. It is also 1 percent more than 2008.

 “Corn acres planted were off of everyone’s forward-looking radar screen,” said Dr. Mike Woolverton, an extension grain economist with Kansas State University.

 

CornThe increase in corn acres came in the face of rain delays in the eastern half of the U.S. Corn Belt – from Illinois eastward. Although newspaper headlines about the planting delay were not as common as during the 2008 season, there was concern that corn hectares would be less this year, and lead to tighter corn supplies.

 U.S. farmers seem to face adversity on a regular basis, but when it comes to planting, they are incredibly efficient. With only a short time frame in which to plant they essentially erased all worries about supplies heading into next year,” said Ken Hobbie, USGC president and CEO.

 Once farmers got their crops in the ground weather improved quite significantly, as overall crop conditions remained well ahead of where they were in 2008. As of July 20, the U.S. corn crop growing in the field was rated a 71 percent in good to excellent condition – 6 points ahead of last year.

 “Many farmers from all across the Midwestern United States are reporting overall very good crop conditions,” Hobbie said. “Farmers seem quite optimistic about the potential of this year’s crop.”

 All of this data led USDA to refigure its corn supply and demand estimates.

 In its July global supply and demand report, USDA gave an early season estimate of corn yields of 9.2 tons per hectare (153.4 bushels per acre). That would bring the total U.S. corn crop to 267.6 million tons (10.5 billion bushels) – or 307.0 million tons (12.1 billion bushels) once the carryover from 2008 is figured in.

 Even with reasonable demand expectations, from domestic needs to exports, USDA said about 34.8 million tons (1.4 billion bushels) of U.S. corn would be left over at the end of the 2009-2010 marketing year.

 “The bottom-line for corn is there is an ample supply now, the growing crop looks like it will be larger than expected, and if all goes well for the rest of the growing season, there will be plenty of corn this winter and next year to satisfy all needs,” Woolverton said.

 For other feed grains, USDA said U.S. farmers this year planted 2.8 million hectares (7.0 million acres) of sorghum and 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of barley. Both sorghum and barley hectares are lower than last year, which was in line with expectations due to lower prices being offered for the grains and some hectares typically planted to barley being switched to other crops due to wet spring weather.

 “Despite the reductions in sorghum and barley hectares, it appears as though there will be plenty of supplies to meet global demands,” Hobbie said.

  

Foundation advances the Council’s mission

The city of Sololá, Guatemala, with a population of less than 15,000, has one of the highest poverty rates in the entire country – a country where the average family has an income of $227 (U.S.) per month and 70 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Nearly 40 percent of families in Sololá have no means to provide for their children’s education, as families must choose between education and food. Other families give up their children for adoption because they feel they have no other choice. 

The difficulty facing the children families of Sololá moved The Grains Foundation to act – to get involved and help during the U.S. Grains Council’s marketing and membership meeting held in Guatemala earlier this year.

The Grains Foundation is a non-profit organization that further carries forward the Council’s mission to improve people’s lives by promoting open trade and market development. It also emphasizes educational programs and economic development, two key pillars to lifting people out of poverty.

“The Foundation is a way for Council members and other supporters to give back on a global Guatemalascale and to make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Ken Hobbie, president and executive director of The Foundation. Hobbie is also the Council’s president and CEO.

“We look at The Foundation as a bridge – a bridge that brings together everyone the Council, from members to customers, to promote value, opportunity and understanding,” he said.

As the Council prepared for its meeting in Guatemala, it learned about the Pixabaj free school for children in Sololá. The school was founded by Carlos Nevarez, a philanthropist from Puerto Rico who was inspired by previous work he did in Guatemala.

The Pixabaj school, with 260 students, was having difficulty securing donations to stay open. To help fill the funding gap, The Grains Foundation raised $8,600 and presented the money during the Council’s meeting there this year. The Foundation also donated a number of school supplies.

“The Grains Foundation was established to assist the U.S. Grains Council in accomplishing its mission of improving lives,” said Dale Artho, Foundation chairman. “By lending a hand, we assist in equipping young people with the skills needed to be leaders in their respective countries.” 

Promoting understanding

Another project taken on this year by The Grains Foundation was supporting a group of 12 agricultural students selected for the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership (I-CAL) program.

The Grains Foundation partnered with the National FFA Organization to help fund I-CAL, which aims to train future leaders in international agriculture.

 The group traveled to China and Vietnam to meet with individuals and businesses, trade representatives, U.S. Grains Council members and staff. 

 “The I-CAL program is a unique opportunity for young agricultural professionals to see the benefits of international trade on a firsthand basis. It is our hope they will become believers in the proposition that international trade makes the world, as a whole, a better place,” said Rick Fruth, vice chairman of The Foundation.

As DDGS interest, use grows, workshops help buyers learn 

One of Japan’s largest corn and barley importers, ZEN-NOH, has found that feeding 10 percent to 15 percent U.S. distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) in its compound feed rations significantly lowers the overall feed bill for its dairy farmers – while maintaining or improving dairy cow performance.

 Yet the success of ZEN-NOH did not happen overnight. It took research trials in partnership with universities in Japan, plus its own tests with low inclusion rates early on. Only after seeing the positive results did ZEN-NOH begin to increase inclusion levels.

 “The success of ZEN-NOH over the past couple of years, led to others in the region giving U.S. DDGS a try,” said Dan Keefe, USGC manager of international operations for DDGS. The result is Japan’s imports of U.S. DDGS grew to 198,000 tons in 2008 and this year’s pace is ahead of that. “It seems pretty clear from this success that U.S. DDGS is viewed as a high-quality feed product by farmers in Japan,” he said.

 Although on a smaller level, a similar positive story comes from China, where imports of U.S. DDGS went from 1,150 tons in 2007 to 8,505 tons in 2008. Imports in 2009 are expected to surpass 10,000 tons. Keefe said the rapid growth is a testament to the quality of the product and the growing acceptance of the ingredient in the Chinese feeding sector.

 As demand growth continues in Japan and interest grows in China, the U.S. Grains Council decided to hold DDGS workshops in the countries to help increase the knowledge base of U.S. DDGS and allow buyers and sellers to meet.

 Those attending the workshops had the opportunity to learn about ways to increase their utilization of DDGS in feed. The Council also provided information on DDGS pelleting, which may help reduce the costs of shipping; storage and handling; nutritional information, and marketing information. “Marketing information helps buyers to more efficiently use U.S. DDGS by equipping buyers with the latest market intelligence on DDGS supply and pricing,” Keefe said.

 University researchers, U.S. DDGS suppliers and others from the United States provided details. Buyers from China and Japan offered an importers perspective and insight into their own use of DDGS.

“The face-to-face meetings between U.S. DDGS supplier members and customers make the workshops a very valuable tool for both,” said Cary Sifferath, USGC senior director in China.

In Japan, a researcher from ZEN-NOH and another from the HOKUREN Technical Research Institute presented results of DDGS beef and dairy cattle feeding trials, which they conducted in 2007 and 2008. The studies were positive for cattle productivity and at the same time DDGS reduced the cost of feed.

“Presentations on these studies gave local farmers a chance to see DDGS utilized under their own climatic conditions. The studies provided them a reliable source of data they can be more confident in,” said Hiroko Sakashita, USGC associate director in Japan.

U.S. Grains Council using new tools to reach its customers 

To help better inform and engage its members and customers, the U.S. Grains Council has launched several new communication efforts – including a blog known as “The Grain Board.”

The blog can be found at www.TheGrainBoard.com and allows readers to subscribe and have the posts come directly to them.

Posts are authored by a variety of individuals associated with the Council – from staff to leadership to interns. Even a group of students on an International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership program provided their insight while studying agriculture trade and market developing in China and Vietnam.

Feedback and questions can be provided by submitting a comment directly on the site. Alternatively, readers can contact authors by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Another way to follow the U.S. Grains Council’s efforts is by following the Council on Twitter – a microblogging tool that has gained in popularity over the last year. The Council’s Twitter page is www.twitter.com/usgc

For a rare visual peak into global agriculture, keep up with the Council by checking out its photograph-sharing website at www.flickr.com/usgc. At this page, people can look at photos from Council meetings and mission trips all around the world. 

Finally, the Council has established a home page on Facebook. Those with Facebook accounts can find the council by logging in and searching “U.S. Grains Council.”

 

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