ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- The first seeds of the 2018 U.S. crop are starting to go in the ground in some southern fields and USDA economists are saying they expect both the corn and soybean crops to be a little smaller than last year. At the USDA's annual Outlook Conference, the estimates call for the 2018 corn crop to yield 174 bushels per acre, down 2.6 bushels from 2017 and that the total crop will yield 14.39 billion bushels-down 214 million bushels from last year. The average farm gate corn price is now expected to average $3.40 a bushel this marketing year. The soybean crop is expected to average 48 and a half bushels an acre-down 6 tenths of a bushel from last year. That would make for a final crop size of 4.32 billion bushels-2% smaller than in 2017. The average soybean price is expected to drop a nickel to $9.25 a bushel. Those economists predict farmers will plant each of the crops on 90 million acres this spring.
Livestock producers are also expected to see tight margins again this year. World demand is expected to be strong again this year but increased supplies from around the world are expected to pressure prices. In the cattle industry, cattle on feed numbers are up over 7% from last year with overall beef production up almost 6%. Average finished steer prices are expected to range between $116 and $123 a hundred this year. Pork production is also expected to increase across the U.S. this year as new slaughter plants come on line. Production is expected to reach almost 27 billion pounds-a new record as hogs going to market continue to weigh more. Hog prices are expected to average between $46 and $49 a hundred this year.
They're talkin' trade again this week. Negotiators from Mexico, Canada and the United States began the 7th round of NAFTA renegotiation talks yesterday in Mexico City. But it doesn't look like agriculture will get a lot of attention during this session. Auto industry issues are scheduled to be debated for most of this round which will end on March 5th. Originally the talks were supposed to end in March but observers say there is no way an agreement will be reached that soon and an 8th round of talks will probably happen in Washington sometime after Easter.
Meanwhile a group of 25 Republican senators is after President Trump to get the U.S. back into the Trans Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, which he got us out of shortly after taking office. That deal, which now includes the remaining 11 countries involved in the original negotiations, is currently taking effect known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership. The senators sent a letter to the president last week pointing out how much of the Pacific market American agriculture is losing because we will now have to deal with higher tariffs and less market share in those 11 countries.
Wisconsin agriculture is mourning the loss of one of its leaders. Last Thursday night John Pagel of Kewaunee was killed when his small plane crashed in an Indiana field during a rain storm as Pagel, his son-in-law and the pilot were returning home from a business trip to Indianapolis. Pagel had built his Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy into a 5,300 cow operation, owned 3 cheese manufacturing plants, a farm to fork restaurant and was also the president of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, the 6th largest dairy coop in the country. And last year he was named a "Top Producer" by Top Producer magazine.