Corn prices are better than $6 per bushel for most contracts this year and early next. What a ride it’s been. On April 21, the nearby May corn contract hit $3.01. Even in late July last year, we still had prices at around $3.10.
A struggling Brazilian corn crop means supply concerns will be top-of-mind, assuming other factors remain the same. So how long of a tail will this high-price trend have?
“It’s not a tail,” says William Tierney, chief economist at Chicago-based Ag Resources. “It’s a new plateau.”
Tierney believes that there are 2 1/2 new demand drivers that should support prices for a longer duration than typical market rallies. “What we’ve got now is a new biofuels rush, and that is due to renewable biodiesel,” he said. “But it’s really hard to see what the future path is, because we don’t have a specific mandate that spells it out,” referring to the ethanol production mandates within the Renewable Fuels Standard.
Even without the solid numbers, Tierney believes the biofuel demand is more than a flash in the pan. “We’ve got a bunch of programs that are operating, we’ve got subsidies that are operating, we’ve got a new administration, and not just in the U.S. but globally this green push.”
This push has led to tight vegetable oil supplies around the world; not just soybean oil, but also palm oil, canola oil, and rapeseed oil are all trading at historic levels.
The second key demand driver comes from China, and what Tierney describes as a possible “structural change” in their feed market. “China appears that it’s going to be a longer-term feed importer, possibly the world’s largest feed importer. If that is true, that is an added structural demand driver.”
The last driver, or half of a driver in this case, is the return to ethanol consumption as motorists hit the roads this summer. Trends appear to return toward normal as the country works its way out of the pandemic.
So, how should farmers market their crops if this indeed is a “new plateau” era?
“Today, we’re not selling,” Tierney said.
If not now, then when?
“Check back … but not today.”