On Friday, May 11th, we got Statistics Canada’s estimates for grain stocks through March 31st, 2018. Specific to durum, there is still 3.4 million tonnes available in Canada as of the end of the first calendar quarter. This is down 16% year-over-year but 5% more than the five-year average.
Durum still held on farm is sitting at 2.75 million tonnes. This is 15% less than last year’s 3.2 million tonnes held by farmers, but also 15% higher than the five-year average. Comparatively, durum held in commercial storage as of March 31st came in at 669,000 tonnes, 23% below the five-year average.
We would argue that the StatsCan report can be viewed as slightly bullish as it’s clear that Canadian old -crop durum stocks are getting moved through the pipeline, and thus, tightening up a bit. This is somewhat surprising given that Canadian durum exports have been losing steam in the past couple of weeks.
Regardless, it’s a breath of fresh air for the old -crop durum market and the probabilities for higher durum prices has increased a bit. Hence, the upside potential for old-crop durum prices might be a little stronger now.
The other report that we got this week was the USDA’s May WASDE. While we don’t get the USDA’s official estimate of the US durum crop until July, we put together our own estimate of US durum production. Using the five-year average yield of 39.4 bushels per acre and average harvested acreage being nearly 96% of the five-year average, this would equate to about 2.1 million tonnes of US durum coming to market for the 2018/19 crop year. After last year’s drought-riddled crop, this would be up by nearly a third year-over-year.
On old crop though, the USDA did indeed report some bullish changes to the 2017/18 durum crop. The USDA increased domestic use by 2 million bushels to 85 million bushels. While certainly positive, that is still about 16% below 2016/17’s 101 million bushels of domestic durum demand in the US.
The more noticeable change in the May WASDE report thought was US durum exports being increased by 5 million bushels to 25 million bushels (or 680,400 metric tonnes). To be more explicit, the USDA increased their forecast for 2017/18 US durum exports by 25% this month. Further, it would be 1 million bushels (27,216 MT) more than the 24 million bushels of US durum wheat shipped out in the 2016/17 crop year.
Looking at some of the data points in the USDA’s FAS database, durum exports are actually tracking slightly behind last year. So far in 2017/18, the US has exported just 382,600 tonnes thus far. This would mean that they’re about 2.7% behind last year’s 393,200 tonnes that were exported by this time a year ago.
Here’s the ranking of where US durum has been going, how much of it has gone there, and what the change is compared to exports to the country were at this time a year ago:
- Italy: 170,000 tonnes (-16% YoY from 203,400 MT);
- Algeria: 167,400 tonnes (+108% from 80,400 MT);
- Nigeria: 16,600 tonnes (-74% from 64,500 MT);
- Guatemala: 15,800 tonnes (+21.5% from 13,000 MT);
- Panama: 4,500 tonnes (-11.5% from 5,100 MT);
- Japan: 4,300 tonnes (-63% from 11,500 MT);
- Ecuador: 3,700 tonnes (no US durum was exported to Ecuador in 2016/17);
- Mexico: 100 tonnes (-96% from 2,500 MT)
- Malaysia: 100 tonnes (no US durum was exported to Malaysia in 2016/17)
Worth mentioning is that Cameroon and South Africa had a combined 12,700 MT shipped to them by this time a year ago but no US durum has been exported there thus far in 2017/18.
Ultimately, we’re viewing this upgrade for US durum exports as a bit suspicious as actual shipments are nowhere near the 25% jump that the USDA is forecasting.
This all equates to 2017/18 US durum ending stocks dropping by a pretty significant 18% from April’s WASDE to 31 million bushels (or 843,700 MT). That number would also be 14% below 2016/17’s ending stocks of 36 million bushels.
On the US durum planting progress, in North Dakota, just 7% of the durum crop has been planted through May 6, up 6% from the week before. Last year through the first full week of May though, 24% of the North Dakota durum crop had been seeded. Further, the five-year average is 18%. Quite simply, durum seeding is behind schedule.
It looks like this year is starting to look like 2014 when durum planting was delayed in North Dakota. By May 18th of that year, 14% of North Dakota’s durum crop was seeded. In the subsequent two weeks though, just 48% of North Dakota’s durum crop had been seeded, pushing the total number up to 62% by June 1st.
To the north, this week’s Saskatchewan crop report showed 9% of all crops are in the ground thus far. While it’s indeed progress, it is behind the 5-year average of 19% and last year’s progress of 11% of all crops planted. Specific estimates on durum planting progress in Saskatchewan were not reported this week.
Next door in Alberta, through May 8th, roughly 8% of all crops have been seeded, up from less than 1% reported the week before. Back in 2013, 7% of the durum crop was the ground by now and it got to nearly 89% by the May long weekend. Can we get there?
This in mind, after last year’s drought, the question of precipitation (and thus, soil moisture) is a pretty important one. At least one forecaster that we follow is seeing weather models for the Canadian Prairies that are similar to 1986, 2001, 2006, and 2012 (all pretty dry years). This doesn’t mean you should lock your bin doors just yet, but it’s something to be cognizant of.
To sum up, the outlook for the durum market is turning a bit bullish this week. StatsCan confirmed depleted old crop durum ending stocks. The planting speed of durum in both the US and Canada is behind schedule. And the USDA thinks the balance sheet of US durum is getting tighter. And finally, a drier forecast creates the potential for better durum prices.
That being said, we’re cognizant of the increased probabilities of stronger durum prices, but we’re still cognizant of the demand side of the equation adding some bearish asterisks. On the sales recommendation front, we remain patient at 40% sold for 2017/18 old crop and 0% sold in 2018/19 new crop.
Have a great week!
– Brennan, Garrett, and Adrian
May 10 – An Estimated 2.1 MMT of US Durum Production in 2018
May 6 – Durum Wheat Weekly GrainCents Digest
May 4 – Africa Becomes a Booming Market for Canadian Wheat
April 29 – Durum Wheat Weekly GrainCents Digest
April 27 – StatsCan Expects 5.78 Million Acres of Durum in Canada in 2018/19