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November 10, 2006

Table of Contents
Not A "Good News" Week
Seasonal Impact on Transport Losses
Election Analysis Next Week
HogInfo Link: Amino Acid Utilization
Construction Manager

Market Preview
Not A "Good News" Week
USDA's monthly Crop Production and World Agriculture Supply and Demand (WASDE) reports released this week indicate that the big crop is getting SMALLER. That goes against the age-old adage, but it seems to accurately reflect yields from various parts of the country, which have, in general, been a little lower than many farmers had expected.

The latest estimate of the 2006 corn crop is 10.745 billion bushels -- not far from the pre-report estimates (see Figure 1). Planted and harvested acres remain the same as last month, but USDA lowered its estimated national yield average from 153.5 to 151.2 bu./acre. The adjustment was mainly due to lower yields in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska -- a veritable "Murderer's Row" when it comes to corn production.

The 160 million-bushel reduction in the estimated crop was balanced by cuts of 50 million bushels for both feed usage and exports and a 60 million-bushel reduction in 2007 carryout stocks. Those stocks, at 935 million bushels, represent just 7.9% of total 2006-07 usage. That stocks-to-use percentage is very low and the driving force for USDA to increase its estimated price received by farmers by 40 cents/bu. -- from $2.80 to $3.20.

Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures traded higher early in today's session (Nov. 9), but closed lower with December 2006 through September 2007 losing 7 to 8.5 cents/bu. and December 2007 losing 11 cents.

Recall that wheat was a major trigger for this fall's corn price increase. USDA did not change any number in its U.S. wheat forecast from October, but increased world wheat supplies by 2 million metric tons. This year's estimated production of 587 million metric tons is still 32 million metric tons (5.2%) lower than one year ago.

Soybean Estimates Bumped Up
USDA increased its estimate of the 2006 soybean crop to a record 3.204 million bushels, 15 million bushels higher than last month; 2007 carryout stocks are now pegged at 565 million bushels -- also a record high. Estimated season-long prices for soybeans were increased by 50 cents/bu. -- to $5.40-6.40 -- mainly to keep up with rising soybean futures, which must keep pace with corn in order to retain some acres next spring.

The forecast price for soybean meal was also increased -- from $147.50-177.50/ton last month to $165-190/ton; 2006-crop beans were 3.5 to 8.75 cents/bu. lower today, while soybean meal futures settle $2.50 to $3.00/ton lower.

Buy, Even Though It Hurts
This report contained no big bullish shocks for feed prices, but did nothing to harm the technical structure of the corn charts, which means the upward trends will likely continue. The same is true, in spades, for soybean meal since some of the 2007 meal futures contracts set contract life highs yesterday.

I hate buying feed at these prices, but if you haven't bought some already, you should probably consider it.

One reason for that suggestion is a study released this week by the Iowa State University (ISU) unit of the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), which suggests some major changes for the U.S. pork industry under current ethanol policies. FAPRI will hold a press conference on Monday to discuss the results, but the paper is already published and available at

The premise of the FAPRI report is simple: Oil prices plus the ethanol tax credit plus a value for distillers dried grains and solubles (DDGS), when combined with plant construction and operating costs, create a specific value for corn. FAPRI's estimate is $4.05/bu. As long as the market price of corn is less than that value, new ethanol plants will be built and they will force the price of corn to that level. The only real question is, "What does the rest of United States and world agriculture look like then?"

The picture is not pretty for the U.S. pork industry. Based on ISU estimates for corn and soybean meal usage and prices, hog production costs will increase by about $31/head, or just over 30%. U.S. production would have to fall by 10 to 15% to drive hog prices up enough to make up for this cost increase. That kind of reduction would drive retail pork prices up by 20% or so given historical demand elasticities.

Look for more on this report. The results are preliminary, but quite logical. FAPRI is working on a model for DDGS usage that will tell us much more about the competitive shifts that will occur in the U.S. meat sector. I expect it to show smaller negative effects on poultry and perhaps no effect on beef and dairy since they will be able to utilized abundant supplies of DDGS.

Gestation Stall Battle Lost
As if all of this isn't enough depressing news, the industry lost the battle for individual gestation stalls in Arizona. Voters there approved a constitutional amendment that would ban veal calf crates and swine gestation stalls after Dec. 31, 2012.

Florida passed a similar amendment to ban individual gestation stalls two years ago. It only affected two hog farms. The Arizona amendment is different in that it affects more production, most notably Hormel's (formerly Clougherty's) production units near Snowflake, AZ. What is rather disheartening is that the vote was not even close -- 62% to 38% - even though the opposition represented a well-organized group of Arizona and national agricultural groups.

It is quite obvious that this will not be the last of these efforts. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which has nothing to do with your local humane society, has a large war chest (I have heard $100 million) and has stated its intent to spread these prohibitions. HSUS will very likely attempt to put some animal welfare language into the 2007 farm bill.

Click to view graphs.

Steve R. Meyer, Ph.D.
Paragon Economics, Inc.


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Production Preview
Seasonal Impact on Transport Losses
Normally, when you read about seasonal variation it's in reference to the breeding herd. And, historically, it relates to low fertility rates experienced during the hot summer months. But, research reported by Mike Ellis and Matt Ritter at the University of Illinois shows seasonal factors may also influence transport losses during winter months.

"In a summary of one year of transportation data from a production system that involved over 2,000 loads and in excess of 360,000 animals, total transport losses (dead and non-ambulatory animals) were greater in the summer and the winter than in the spring and fall (total transport losses: 0.79, 1.13, 0.85, and 1.16% in spring, summer, fall, winter, respectively)," report the researchers.

"Another analysis of data from approximately 6,000 loads and one million animals from a different production system showed that total losses were greatest in the cooler months from November to February with a much less pronounced increase in losses in the summer months," they add.

One potential explanation of the increase in losses during the winter months is cold stress. "Generally speaking, with the exception of the hot summer period, the majority of finishing pigs are reared under thermo-neutral conditions, even in the cold winter months," they note.

"However, when they are transported in the winter, they commonly experience extremely low temperatures, often combined with a substantial wind-chill when the truck is moving," they continue. "In our experience, it is not uncommon for pigs to experience a temperature decline as extreme as 60 degrees F. between the barn temperature and the one in the trailer and this change occurs very rapidly, often in a matter of a few seconds."

Pigs that are raised in temperature-controlled conditions throughout the growing stage are obviously susceptible to extreme cold stress during transport. "The animals' response to cold conditions is to increase its metabolic rate, initially through shivering. Increased metabolic rate and the associated decline in blood pH and elevation in body temperature is centrally involved in the development of the non-ambulatory, non-injured pig," explain Ellis and Ritter.

Also, the researchers discovered that losses were higher on the top deck of double-decked trailers in the winter, whereas the reverse appeared to be the case in the summer.

One factor that should be considered to minimize transport losses is to allow enough floor space on the trailer. "Total transport losses were more than two-fold higher for pigs transported at a floor space of 4.2 sq. ft./pig compared to 5.2 sq. ft./pig," note the researchers.

Ellis and Ritter recognize the survey data is limited, and recommend larger surveys involving a greater number of production systems and slaughter plants to clearly establish seasonal patterns in transport losses.

"Because of the uncertainty over the precise cause(s) of the increase in transport losses that has been observed in the fall and winter, it is impossible to give specific recommendations to address those causes," they write. "However, as at other times of the year, reducing the amount of stress experienced by the pigs at all stages of transportation from the farm through to the plant is critical to minimize transport losses."

JoAnn Alumbaugh
For all your agricultural news, markets and commentaries, go to

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Legislative Preview
Election Analysis Next Week
Scott Shearer is on vacation. Next week's column will focus on the election results and the impact on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.


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Research Link Of The Week
HogInfo Link: Amino Acid Utilization
Visit to view research articles on amino acid utilization. Articles include the following: "Effects of Feeding Diets Formulated with Amino Acid Profiles Intended for High-, Medium-, and Low-lean Gain Pigs on the Performance of Medium-lean Gain Pigs," "Effect of Formulating Diets to Reduce Excess Amino Acids on Performance of Growing and Finishing Pigs" and more.

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Help Wanted
Construction Manager
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Dale Miller, Editor, National Hog Farmer

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