There hasn’t been much price movement lately for durum as harvest finally winds down.
Cash bids for top milling quality durum are still around $6.50, with some at $6.75. Bids drop off drastically for feed or durum with major quality issues. Those prices are around $2.75 or so.
“We just haven’t seen a lot of price movement lately,” said Erica Olson, marketing specialist for the North Dakota Wheat Commission.
Olson noted that there hasn’t been a lot of demand domestically as most end-users have adequate supplies through the end of the year and into the first quarter or next year.
“After that we could see potential for increased demand and thus some more price movement,” she said. “As we get closer to planting time, that will also be a critical time for prices, depending on what supplies look like and the planting outlook for 2020.”
While domestic demand has been somewhat slow, export demand for durum has been relatively good. To date, the U.S. has sold 24.6 million bushels. That compares to 14.3 million last year at this time. Most of this increase has been to Italy.
“We’re seeing increased demand to Italy based on the fact that their domestic crop had lower production and other major exporting countries had similar issues with both production and quality,” Olson said, adding that Canadian exports to Italy are also higher.
“It’s tough to say,” she said. “Will it continue, or are they just buying early to ensure they have adequate supplies?”
There has also been some demand from the African region, including sales to Tunisia, which the U.S. hasn’t seen for a while. There have also been sales to Algeria, a top buyer and traditional market for the U.S., but also sales to Libya and Ethiopia, “which are definitely not traditional markets.”
“It could be that they are taking advantage of some of the lower quality durum at discount prices, but we’re not sure,” she said.
Olson pointed out that unharvested acres are a big issue this year, noting that USDA did a re-survey of producers in October for harvested acres, yield and production and released that report earlier this month.
According to the report, planted durum acres in the U.S. were 1.34 million and harvested acres were 1.18 million, which means a harvested ratio of 88 percent. Normally that ratio is close to 97-98 percent.
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In most other years producers would have wrapped up harvest weeks ago, but the cool, wet weather this fall during harvest has prolonged its completion.
“It’s weird to still be talking about harvest progress in November, but there are still producers trying to take off more of their durum,” Olson said, adding that producers in North Dakota indicated they harvested 600,000 of the 720,000 acres planted. “That’s a harvested ratio of only 83 percent and one of the lowest we’ve seen.”
Montana producers had a harvested ratio of 94 percent, which Olson noted, seems a little high.
“Some may question if these numbers are even final given the fact that producers were still trying to harvest during the survey period,” she said.
Also in the report, yield was projected at a record 45.7 bushels per acre (BPA) which is slightly better than the 44.8 BPA in the previous report.
“(Those figures) may likely be accurate. Producers reported huge yields this year,” she said, adding that with the lower harvested acres, the production estimate declined this month to 53.8 million bushels, down 30 percent from last year.
In the November WASDE (World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimate) report, besides the lower production number, the ending stocks number was also lowered, going from 49 million bushels down to 46 million. Other than that there were no big changes to durum supply and demand.
The report also kept the export number at 25 million bushels.
“Sales so far are almost at that level (24.6 million), so hopefully we will see sales continue and see all of those sales shipped,” Olson said. “If we do, that export number will eventually be raised and thus ending stocks lowered.”
Olson also pointed out, however, that ports at the Great Lakes will be closed soon which usually corresponds with lower exports.
“Historically speaking, stocks level for durum pretty high. That’s one thing keeping prices at bay,” Olson said. “Even though we have significant quality issues – and so does Canada – and smaller production, we haven’t seen prices increase as much as one might think they should given the fact the U.S. has fairly large stocks from 2018 of higher quality and that domestic demand has been fairly slow.”
Looking ahead, planting in the U.S. desert durum region will begin soon.
“However, prices indicate that acres aren’t likely to increase there,” she said, adding that northern durum producers are worried about planting in 2020. “Will things dry out enough by planting time?
“There’s some potential out there for increased prices, but it will require patience,” she concluded.