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U.S. Seed Costs Drop, Remain Historically High

2019 seed budgets likely set with scrutiny, economists says.

Declining costs of production have been an important improvement during the farm economy downturn.

While the overall trend has been for lower costs of production, changes in production expenses have not been uniform across inputs. Fertilizer, for example, has experienced significant declines. This week’s post reviews trends in corn and soybean seed expense.

National Trends: Corn Seed Expense

Considering the USDA’s reported average annual corn seed expense since 1975 in real terms (inflation-adjusted (2017 = 100), the uptick over the last decade has been nothing short of dramatic. Corn seed expense was mostly $40 per acre from 1975 through the mid-2000s. In 2005, the expense began to increase, reaching a high of $105 per acre in 2015.

Most recently, corn seed expense has turned lower in recent years. For 2017, corn seed expense was $99 per acre, a $6.25-per-acre decline, or 6% lower, over two years.

Also, the share of total corn production expense that seed represented before 2000 was 8%, or less, of total corn production expenses. As seed expense increased, so did its share of total expenses. In 2015, corn seed reached a high of 15% of total expenses. By 2017, this share contracted to 14.5%. The shift from 8% of total corn production expenses to more than 14% tells us that, over time, seed expense has increased more than other expenses.

For context, corn seed expense increased from $43 an acre in 2000 to $99 in 2017 (in real terms). Over the last 18 years, the expense increased by 131%, or increased at an average annual rate of 5.1%. That is a significant rate of increase sustained over nearly two decades.

National Trends: Soybean Seed Expense

The national trend for soybean seed expense since 1975 jumped higher than corn. Again, these data are inflation-adjusted. Similar to corn, a significant increase in the per-acre expense and share of total expenses occurred since the early 2000s.

While soybean seed expense was previously around $25 per acre and 6% of total production expenses, in 2017 it accounted for $58 per acre and 13% of total expenses.

Real soybean seed expense peaked in the late 2000s at nearly $67 per acre (in 2017 dollars).

Comparing soybean expense in 2000 to 2017, the change over 18 years has been slightly less than corn. In total, seed expense increased by 113%, equal to a 4.5% average annual rate of change.

Purdue Crop Budgets

For a slightly different look at the trend in seed expense, it’s worth considering the corn seed expenses from  Purdue University crop budgets per acre and the share of budgeted revenue.

Similar to the earlier data, corn seed expense in the crop budgets also turned higher during the farm economy boom. Where the budgets had been $30 per acre in the early 2000s, the expense exceeded $120 per acre recently.

In 2018, budgeted corn seed expense was $111 per acre. This represents a $12-per-acre decline over two years, or a 10% decline. The decline is a welcome improvement for producers.

The additional good news is that corn seed expense has accounted for a declining share of budgeted revenue. In 2016 this reached a high of nearly 21%, but in 2018 declined to less than 18%. Even with the improvements, corn seed’s share of budgeted revenue remains above levels observed in the early 2000s.

For soybean seed expense, Purdue crop budgets also reveal an improvement. Since 2017, budgeted soybean seed expense has reduced $7 per acre, or more than 9%. Similarly, seed expense has accounted for a declining share of budgeted revenue, falling from nearly 17% (2016) to less than 13% (2018).

After initially resisting adjustments lower, seed expense for corn and soybean production have turned lower in recent years. Although the changes have been smaller than what was observed in fertilizer and cash rental rates, the improvement has been welcome.

However, it is worth noting how much seed expenses increased during the farm economy boom. In most cases, seed still accounts for a historically high share of total production expenses, or budgeted revenue.

It is important to note these data are seed expense, which reflects several different factors. Undoubtedly, changes in seed prices have been an important contributor, but changes in seeding rates have also had an impact.

Looking ahead, current commodity prices, especially for soybeans, will likely have producers carefully evaluating their budgets and plans for 2019. Seed may very well be an area of scrutiny, especially if producers believe viable alternatives exist – adjusting seeding rates, changing hybrids, or adjusting trait packages.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to learn more about AEI’s Crop Budget Outlook Project, which helps agribusinesses and ag lenders plan for 2019.
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