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Barley Outlook Poor Despite Small Crop

For three-times-daily market reports from Don Bousquet and RNI, visit “ICE Futures Canada updates” at www.manitobacooperator.ca

Grain and oilseed prices at ICE Futures Canada in Winnipeg closed the week ended Sept. 3 lower, with big declines in canola. Canola was undermined by weakness in the Chicago soy complex, the beginning of the harvest, favourable weather forecast into the middle of this week and slow demand. Farmer selling picked up as well. By the end of last week there was talk of exports going to China or Pakistan, as canola was competitive with the European rapeseed crop price. Western barley posted small losses on the weak tone in corn and a soft tone in the cash market.

Chicago soybean and corn futures posted losses with big declines in the soybean market on the favourable crop outlook and beneficial weather. However, exports

were also strong. Corn futures declined on expectations for a large crop and the favourable growing conditions. Concern about the lagging development and strong exports did give some support.

U. S. wheat futures fell moderately on the ample global wheat supply and the advancing North American spring wheat harvest. U. S. wheat demand did pick up in the export market, suggesting the market was attracting in buying. Reduced Australian wheat crop estimates due to El Nińo also gave some support.

Across the entire Canadian and U. S. markets, bearish technical signals prompted strong levels of speculative selling. Funds are short canola again.

ON PRICING CANOLA

Note that the stars seem to be aligning to suggest a very poor year for canola and soybeans in 2010-11. I know most farmers don’t have their 2009 crop off yet, but for marketing purposes it is best to note that early pricing will likely be better than waiting until the spring.

The main reason for the poorer outlook is that fact that soybean production looks ready to explode. South American production is expected to climb to record levels, with Brazilian farmers quite optimistic. Talk is that Brazilian output will climb to 64.7 million tonnes from this past year’s 58.1 million tonnes. The entire South American region could produce as much as 120 million tonnes, which would be a new record. Weather tends to be good for South America in a year when El Nińo appears.

Even if record demand continues for soybeans, global ending stocks will climb in 2010. This will weigh on the market in the spring and suggests that canola and soybean prices will be stronger early this winter than in the spring.

Weather can still alter this outlook, but if growing conditions are favourable the outlook for oilseeds gets quite poor. El Nińo is a mixed blessing for oilseed prices as it gives good weather to the South American crop, boosting its production, but tends to cut output of palm oil. The result is that the bearishness of the global soybean crop is offset. In addition, if soybean prices fall to $8 a bushel this spring it will sharply reduce 2010 U. S. plantings, which means we will not stay at the spring lows for too long.

BARLEY DEMAND

Everything suggests barley should be very strong this year as production has dropped sharply from last year’s 11.78 million tonnes. Statistics Canada is pegging the 2009 crop at 8.948 million tonnes.

Grain trade sources are revising their barley forecasts higher, as yields are coming in better in early harvesting. Most are carrying a barley crop of about 9.5 million tonnes.

The current low prices are expected to stimulate demand – not in the domestic market as you would expect, but in the export market. Current f. o. b. (freight on board) prices for barley out of Vancouver are competitive with Black Sea f. o. b. barley prices. Sales are not likely into the largest markets for barley in the Middle East, because of distance, but are likely into Asia.

Howe v e r, d o m e s t i c demand is falling due to the imports of competing feed supplies from the U. S. – mainly dried distillers grains (DDGs), both with and without solubles. It’s felt that feedlots have heavily booked these DDGs and are covered out to January. U. S. ethanol plants are running at full steam and there are a lot of DDGs available for sale. Canada will be the main importer of U. S. product. That’s on top of the increasingly large Canadian supply of DDGs.

Domestic barley demand could be as low as 6.5 million tonnes as DDGs flood the Prairies and as livestock numbers decline due to poor profitability.

If exports climb to 2.8 million tonnes and domestic use is 6.5 million tonnes, then total barley consumption in 2009-10 will be 9.3 million tonnes, which is about in line with production, and ending stocks of barley will drop only modestly to about 1.8 million tonnes from the expected 2.1 million tonnes in 2008-09.

This suggests at least firm markets, but prices have already dropped $20 per tonne in the domestic market over the past few weeks as the lower demand in Western Canada and falling U. S. corn markets weigh on values.

U. S. corn production is forecast by Informa Economics at 13.372 billion bushels, up from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s forecast of 12.76 billion. Most traders are comfortable with this, if no frost hits the crop.

This will keep U. S. corn prices down around the US$3-per-bushel level, unless unusual demand comes forward . We are already seeing exceptional demand for corn in the export market. Ethanol producers are running at full capacity as they are profitable and will continue to be as long as crude oil values stay above $60 a barrel. In addition, a shortage of sugar in the world, due to the problems with India’s monsoon, has stimulated demand for corn syrup as a sweetener.

So the large crop will likely be absorbed. In addition, the markets fear farmers turning away from corn planting next year if prices are too low and that likely will hold U. S. corn values at the US$3/ bu. level. So corn supplies a price floor for the barley market, but does not give it much encouragement to rally.

As a result, barley prices, as the harvest progresses, are likely to drop back to the $135 level in the southern Alberta market, down from the current $145-$150, before bouncing back. We could see Manitoba prices drop to $2/ bu. or maybe slightly below that before they bounce higher. We are then likely to see barley in southern Alberta rebound to the $4/ bu. level, while in Manitoba we are likely to hit the $3/bu. level.

However, watch the Canadian Wheat Board’s pool return outlooks (PROs), as the export market might be a viable option for barley producers this year.

– Don Bousquet is a well-known market analyst

and president of Resource News International (RNI),

a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and

commodity market reporting.

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