November 13, 2012
Will the U.S. become a net exporter of oil by 2030? That’s what I’m reading and it most certainly would have a major impact on farmers and farm equipment dealers and manufacturers.
Since Farm Equipment started its annual “Dealer Business & Outlook Trends” survey eight years ago, ag equipment dealers have ranked energy and fuel costs among their top three concerns. Not only do rising fuel prices impact dealers’ own cost of doing business but that of their customers, as well, and often puts a damper on their investments in new machinery.
So, yesterday I was more than a little surprised to read a MarketWatch (Wall Street Journal) report with the headline, “U.S. Set to Overtake Saudi in Oil Output.” I guess I didn’t realize we were anywhere close to challenging the OPEC nations when it comes to oil production.
But according to the report, “A shale oil boom means the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2020, a radical shift that could profoundly transform not just the world's energy supplies, but also its geopolitics, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Monday.
“This major shift will be driven by the faster-than-expected development of hydrocarbon resources locked in shale and other tight rock that have just started to be unlocked by a new combination of technologies called hydraulic fracturing (fracking).”
The report goes on to say that, “by around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer" and overtake Saudi Arabia for a time. "The result is a continued fall in U.S. oil imports (currently at 20% of its needs) to the extent that North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030."
The report doesn’t discuss what, if any, impact this shift in oil production would have on prices, but it does briefly mention that it could be a game changer for biofuels.
Anyone connected with North American agriculture can attest to the fact that the use of corn to produce ethanol has contributed to the rapid rise in commodity grain prices. This, in turn, has underpinned the increase in new farm equipment sales during the past five years or so.
If the justification for the Renewable Fuels Standard, which mandates a specified volume of ethanol be used in gasoline is no longer valid, (and its already under pressure from a whole host of industries that are feeling the effects of rising commodity prices), then what’s the future hold for corn production?
In a recent column, Richard Brock, president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, reminded farmers that commodity prices have always been and will continue to be cyclical, and suggests that in the normal course of business corn is bound to fall back to $4 a bushel and soybeans to $10, possibly in the next year.
What will happen if or when the U.S. no longer needs to buy overseas oil? Will the need for ethanol also disappear? I know it wouldn’t break everyone’s heart to see corn ethanol lose its luster, but it could and would change the outlook for farm machinery.
It’s probably nothing to fret about in the near term, but it’s something to think about over the longer haul.