What is driving corn price volatility today

Price trends and shifting market dynamics

Corn price trends are becoming more volatile each day as they reflect a reality of crops and export outlook, which is difficult to forecast.

Major exporters such as the US and Ukraine are facing immense hardships either as a consequence of extreme weather or geopolitical unrest. On the other end, Brazil is seeing record crops and exports this year and becoming always more attractive as a source of supply for buyers. In fact, Brazilian production for the 2022-23 season is forecast at 126.4 million tonnes, which means a 13.5 million tonnes increase on the year, according to the country’s national food agency Conab.

Mississippi low water levels curb US corn exports

The latest US weather reports have informed us that the lack of rain in the Ohio River Valley has significantly lowered the Mississippi water levels, and since the river is by far one of the most important waterways for corn shipments, this is now resulting in exports being slowed. Crops resent the dry weather conditions too. The USDA has already downsized its outlook and cut production to 353 million tonnes in its October update to its World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimate.

According to official weather forecasts, water levels in the region are usually down in winter, but in October 2022, the decline was steeper than seen in the last decade, and given the predictions on climate change, this will certainly not be an isolated incident. Logistics constraints are likely to feature to some extent for the US, limiting the ability of producers to get supplies to export terminals in the New Orleans area and Gulf of Mexico.

Brazilian corn becoming more competitive on the market against US origin 

The described dynamic, combined with a strong US dollar against a weaker Brazilian real, is likely to render US exports less competitive against Brazilian origin, with prices for US corn likely to spike. Brazil’s corn exports are expected to reach 6 million tonnes in November, up from November 2021’s 2.7 million tonnes, according to a report published by Anec this November.

Uncertainty in Black Sea ports makes Ukraine origin buyers anxious 

Since the conflict involving two major world grain exporters, Russia and Ukraine, started in February 2022, global markets have fluctuated more than usual.

A free grain corridor agreement negotiated earlier this year with Turkey and the UN aims to unblock cargoes traveling from the Black Sea. However, Russian commitment to the agreement is questionable. Only last month, the government threatened to withdraw from the deal, only to rejoin it in a few days. Plus, regardless of any contractual commitments, while the conflict continues, it’s hard to guarantee shipments from a warzone. It’s true that Ukrainian exporters are trying to get corn out via shallow water routes, like the Danube, and via train. Still, questions remain as to how much is possible to transport via these alternative routes, the costs involved, and whether destinations outside the EU can be reached.

Competition for corn exports in destinations outside the EU 

Ukrainian corn buyers have been anxious for all of the reasons mentioned above. This may have led some countries to increase their demand from Brazil at the expense of Ukrainian sellers.

Although when it comes to export and imports, as well as price and capacity, geopolitical relations between exporters and importers also play a significant role.

Markets likely to continue fluctuating 

Looking at recent data and analysis, Brazil holds a strong competitive position against US and Ukrainian corn markets. Despite selling a more expensive product than the one offered by Ukraine, its ability to export greater quantities puts Brazilian sales in an advantageous place.

However, Brazil’s newly elected government and administration will likely update its export policy and could issue higher biofuel blending mandates, which would mean an increased domestic demand for ethanol and, consequently, lower exports. Us droughts may be followed by periods of rain and the grain corridor agreement negotiated between Russia and Ukraine may stop or be altered.

Export trends and prices will change accordingly, and new trade dynamics could quickly emerge.

With so many volatility drivers and price influencers at play, market players need reliable and up-to-date price reporting systems to make more accurate projections and forecasts. It has become crucial to continually watch price trends, get news updates and refer to detailed analyses for each regional market to stay on top of the game in corn trading.

Speak to our sales team to discover our corn pricing tools and insights.

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