Ag’s Perfect Storm: Tight Supply, Strong Demand and Weather Uncertainty
Joining QuickHit for the first time is the commodities expert Kevin Van Trump of The Van Trump Report, helping us understand ag’s supply, demand, and clarifying uncertainties. Why are we seeing so much attention to agriculture right now? What’s contributing to the tightness in the ag market? How long will the corn rally last? How about wheat? What can we expect for the foreseeable future? And protein, how delicate is this with all that’s happening with ASF, cyber attacks, etc.?
The Van Trump Report, a very large agricultural newsletter and analysis service. Kevin Van Trump started trading in the 90s in Chicago. Switched over, traded Notes, 10 years, five years. And then really got more heavily into ag. He’s from a small rural town outside of Kansas City and I was really interested in corn, beans, wheat, cattle, livestock. They started putting together a newsletter 10, 15 years ago when ethanol started to become more prominent and it started to travel around the circuits with some of the bigger hedge funds and some of the bigger money managers.
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This QuickHit episode was recorded on June 2, 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this Ag’s Perfect Storm: Tight Supply, Strong Demand and Weather Uncertainty QuickHit episode are those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Complete Intelligence. Any contents provided by our guest are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any political party, religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
TN: There’s a lot of attention on ag right now. And can you just kind of give us a little bit of a set up of what’s happening in the ag markets, everything from the volatility of corn to, you know, what’s happening in wheat, a little bit of kind of protein, a little bit of beef activity. And that sort of thing. Can you tell us just generally why are we seeing so much attention on ag right now?
KVT: Well, I think you see the funds take a more proactive risk on approach. You know, just in commodities in general, we’re seeing location from Covid and things of that nature. And most people thought as we ramp back up, we’re going to have a pretty strong demand for, like you said, proteins bring in some of the livestock back on, just demand in general.
So we’ve seen more fund interest and more money flow into the space. Like you’ve seen the rebound in crude. You’ve also seen this rebound and in the ag and the commodity world. So China’s got a big appetite. They’ve been a huge, huge buyer of corn and have led the way. Beans as well on the protein side, as you and I will discuss here in a little bit. But yeah, basically, you know, we’ve we’ve gone from a oversupplied market for the last four, five years to all of a sudden we’ve got tight supplies. We’ve got record strong demand and some uncertainty into weather. So, you know, everything all said ripe for a possible rally.
TN: And is that tightness? Is that on, say, processing? I know with some of the protein, it’s processing concerns. But what is that tightness? Is it say, weather, drought in Brazil, that sort of thing, too much weather, too much rain, in the Midwest or what’s contributing to that tightness in the market?
KVT: Yeah, I think you had, you know, we really rarely get good numbers out of China from a supply or demand, especially a supply standpoint. They were supposedly sitting on a ton of corn and a ton of supply. All of a sudden they come online as a big, big buyer, you know, whether it’s maybe lack of quality with the storage of their corn, maybe the numbers just weren’t there all along. Maybe the supply wasn’t there. But it feels like they want to import the corn down into the southern part of China, maybe get away from.
We think Covid really exposed the rail dislocation. And when they had that rail shut down and dislocate, it probably crimped a lot of movement of corn supply and the Chinese government is looking at that and saying, hey, we can’t have that happen again if we’re going to see more possible problems. So they want to be a big buyer of corn from the US. They want to buy as much beans as they can from South America. And so so here we sit trying to juggle that. I think the world wasn’t really prepared for the size of buying that they were going to step in and do.
TN: OK. And how long specifically with corn, how long do you think that buying lasts? Is that kind of a three month phenomenon or does that go, say, for years?
KVT: Well, Tony is kind of how it played out for us in the soybean market years ago. China was what we would call a price buyer of beans. They would buy beans on the breaks and then they became a quantity buyer of beans, where it didn’t matter if soybeans were traded in five or six dollars a bushel or sixteen or eighteen dollars a bushel. They were going to buy beans every month. And so we see China as a quantity buyer of soybeans.
And we’ve predicted… Now, I hate to say this because we’ve made this call before. It’s OK. Own it. That China was going to become a quantity buyer of corn eventually. And like I said, we’ve heard guys in the market say this for the last 20 years and it never really came to fruition. They’ve continued to be a price buyer of corn.
We feel we’re at a tipping point and we believe they’re going to continue to be a quantity buyer of US corn for the foreseeable future as they try to transition, open more ethanol facilities, try to transition to cleaner energy. And some of those types of place, I think they’re buying corn longer term.
TN: So we’ve hit. It sounds to me like we’ve hit almost a semi-permanent new price level. Is that, would that be fair to say?
KVT: Probably not, I would say, how would you say? The grain markets in general and farmers in general. They’re going to plant from fencerow to fencerow. They’ll be planting acres on their back patio if they can, and they’re going to roll out more acres in South America. And so you’re going to see a lot of supply really come on with technology changes that can come on fairly quick.
Even though I think China, you know, is going to be a continued buyer and demand is going to remain strong. I bet we really start to increase some of this production and we’ll probably balance it back out here. So that’s you know, they’ve caught us a little offsides right now. You got the price of corn at seven, close to seven dollars. And then we, barring any weather incidents or craziness that would really upset production, we probably trade here well, and then we start to ramp up supply and balance or back out.
TN: Very good. OK, interesting. Can we move on to wheat for a little bit? There’s been you know, we saw wheat come on strong and then come off and there’s expectations of wheat prices rising again. And you’ve covered this in detail in your daily newsletter. Can you talk a little bit about the wheat market dynamics and kind of what you’re seeing there?
KVT: Yeah, you know, wheat has become a big follower of corn, so to speak. We’ve seen, especially in China, you’re seeing a lot more wheat substituted into feed rations. So you’re getting a, you’re getting a bigger demand for wheat as a feed ration, but of corn, more to fizzle out. We probably see wheat drop off as well just because its demand is kind of correlated right now to being substituted in for the higher prices and corn. There are some pockets where we have some weather stories.
Spring wheat seems to be in short order here in the US. Some of those acres didn’t get planted, probably were planted to corn. You’re seeing those conditions problematic in, say, North Dakota, which is our biggest spring wheat producing state. They’re having problems with the drought and dry conditions. You’re having some pockets of some concern in parts of Canada, Canadian prairies, southern prairies, where also big spring wheat producing areas. So that, you know, spring wheat, maybe a little hot right now. But we see wheat is mainly a follower to corn at the moment.
TN: Very interesting. OK, let’s move on to proteins, because I think that’s a really interesting story. We had this cyber attack on the largest beef or one of the largest beef processors in the US this week. And we already had some tightness in the beef market. The inventories, the frozen inventories, from what I learned from your newsletter, were already low, other things. So how delicate is that market and will we see that follow on effects come later into the market or will that be sooner?
KVT: No, I think, you know, there’s going to be, there’s massive dislocation right now across the board still, and I think you can see that and we could talk about. I’m sure your follow up into the hog space. But I mean, you’re seeing that with both cattle and hogs. If you recall, back early in Covid, they had to shut down a lot of processing plants because workers were getting sick and they had to take precautions.
Now, on the hog and poultry side, as I’m sure as we were going to discuss, those shutting of the plants, whether it be a Tyson or whoever it may have been at the time. I mean, that really backed up supply or the herd. Now, you had producers had to call the herd and they pulled back and reduced the size of the hog or quite a bit or with cattle or things of that nature. Well, then all of a sudden, corn prices and feed prices take off to the upside. And you have a producer or rancher who just really doesn’t want to expand his herd because he’s not certain about the processing plant if they’re going to stay in his local area because it Covid and now he sees corn take off and the feed take off to these extreme highs. You’ve got them caught where there were a little bit short supply and all of a sudden demand coming back like gangbusters.
All the restaurants, or people around the world are starting to try to get out and about more. And so, like you said, you guys, you got surging demand right here and you got the supply pipeline dislocated a little cut off size.
TN: And then when we see things like ASF, African Swine Flu in China and the calling of the even the breeder hogs, that sort of thing, how global is that dynamic? Does not present pressure on, say, US pork prices or or is that really just a regional Chinese pork price phenomenon?
KVT: No, we think it does. I mean, we’ve seen as it creates ripples in China and they try to get on top of it. I mean, it’s a crazy dynamic. They cut their hog order in half. But as they tried to get on top of it, they’ve had to be bigger buyers of importing of pork and the United States has been a beneficiary. And I think that could continue to be the case. You know, God forbid that we were to get a case here in the United States that’s always kind of the last few years, the big wild card in the mix.
If we were to spot something like that here in the US, know probably the knee jerk immediately as to the downside. Just because prices probably break because people are going to want to eat the hogs. You’re going to kill a lot. But I think longer term, that creates a supply shortage and we rebound back in the opposite direction. So it could be a double edged sword.
TN: OK, so we’ve seen a lot of volatility in these markets. What are you looking for kind of for the remainder of 2021. Do you see these prices elevated, say, until Q3? Do they come off in Q4 or do you see these, the kind of the volatility and elevated prices continuing through the end of the year?
KVT: You know, kind of like we talk in crude, we probably see demand outpace supply through Q3, Q4, maybe even a little later if you get some dislocation. In our sector, if you’re talking corn, beans, wheat, things like that, it’s really right now about US weather.
In Brazil, they’ve had some real rough patches of dry, dry and hot weather and we continue to see their corn crop get smaller in size. The USDA was talking they had lowered it down to one hundred and two million metric tons for corn. Now they’re talking some guys in the 95 to 90 million metric tons. And so that that’s going to take more corn out of the supply pipeline or are available for exports. And now here in the US, we’ve got the drought that’s lingering and could, it just sit, we’re just right here on this tipping point, Tony, where if it turns hot and dry within the next 60 days, corn, beans and we take off. I’m talking we’ll probably go all time record highs. If you see what I’m saying.
So and you remember back to the 2012 drought, the USDA had the crop rated about the same condition as it does right now. Things were similar, but all it takes, Tony, and corn, is for you to get really hot and dry right around the pollination period, which will be the end of June, first week of July somewhere in there. And boy, I tell you what, the market will add a ton of risk premium and, you know, a lot of fireworks take place.
So that’s kind of what we positioned ourself for. If we get that story, we take off to the upside because demand’s so strong. OK, so we’re looking for hot and dry potentially in late June, early July. And that would really set things on fire and in ag markets.
TN: Right. Very good. Kevin, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate this. This is a real pleasure to have you here. You know this stuff inside and out and we’re really grateful for all of the insights you’ve given us today. Thanks so much. For everyone watching, please like the video, please subscribe. That helps us out a lot. And we’ll see you on the next one. Thanks very much.
KVT: Thanks, Tony. Appreciate it.