Southern producers may not have to travel the thousands of miles it takes to get to Pamplona, Spain to enjoy the thrill of running with the bulls this year.

The general consensus among economists speaking at a recent agricultural outlook meeting was that the bulls seem to finally be returning to several commodity markets. Most major row-crop commodities have experienced significant price improvement over the course of this marketing year, and there are signs that trend could continue, according to Mississippi State University economist John Anderson.

Anderson and his fellow agricultural economists shared their market projections with growers attending the Ag Update 2004 meeting at the Delta Research Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss. Here's what they say growers should expect from the markets in 2004.

The 2003-04 soybean marketing year, which began Aug. 1, 2003, has seen decreases in soybean crush numbers, exports, stocks, and production.

Steve Martin, agricultural economist at Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., calls the soybean market outlook “positive for producers.”

“Price has weakened a little in recent weeks, but is still way above the five year average,” he says. “There has been an opportunity for the last six months for growers to lock in a positive price for the 2004 soybean crop.”

Martin says, “Production numbers for the 2002-03 marketing year were significantly lower due to production problems in the Midwest. On top of that, increased exports to China have surprised everybody in every commodity in the last six months, and ending stocks are expected to hit a critically low level of 125 million bushels.”

While a bumper South American crop could limit price potential, favorable forward pricing opportunities have been available to growers since the 2003 harvest was completed. “Monthly soybean prices have stayed above the five year average price throughout the past 12 months, but unfortunately, too many of us had sold our beans before the prices spiked to year highs,” Martin says.

That doesn't necessarily mean the run upwards is over. Martin believes that most of the South American crop potential is built into the market, but he says potential harvesting problems or limiting yields due to Asian Rust Disease could be bullish for prices.

USDA is projecting an average farm price of $7.25 per bushel for the 2003-04 marketing year, but higher prices for competing commodities could limit soybean acreage in 2004. It's also possible that soybean supplies could be rationed through the higher futures prices.

A recent drop in soybean futures, according to Jim Quinn, with Mississippi Farm Bureau, was the result of disappointment in the market because the U.S. government did not regulate all animal products out of animal feed. “But the shock of that may be over, and prices seem to be attempting a recovery from the recent slide,” Quinn says.

Corn futures have tended to trade sideways in recent months, due at least partly to increased production expectations in 2003. However, prices have strengthened recently thanks to lower 2003 production estimates and thus lower ending stocks, increased export potential to China, and a U.S. dollar exchange rate “that makes it easier for us to sell into other markets,” Martin says.

The price forecast for the 2003-04 marketing year is affected by ending stocks that are lower coming into the 2004 crop season, higher projected production numbers, increased export potential, and feed use that's up slightly. Because the Midwest historically favors soybeans over corn, ending corn stocks could be further reduced.

“We haven't begun exports to China yet, but the current rumor is it could happen as soon as late 2004 or early 2005. That possibility is factored into the market,” says Martin. “It's a market to watch. We could see some things happen before the year is over.”

USDA is forecasting an average wheat price of $3.35 per bushel for this 2003-04 marketing year.

“We started the marketing year with lower ending stocks and increased production and exports, and the numbers seem to be holding strong,” he says. “In the past year export demand has reached its highest level since 1995-96, winter wheat acreage is currently down three percent, and moisture continues to be short in the Plains growing region. All of these are bullish factors for the wheat market.”

While ending stocks are higher than they were last year, those numbers have been revised downward in the past month.

“A recent rally on July 2004 futures prices is creating favorable forward pricing opportunities, and prices could go higher if dry weather continues in the western wheat belt,” Martin says.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com