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Commodities: A Resource Guide

Agricultural Sector

Movement, Cotton Stocks of the World. c.1885. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The agricultural, or soft commodities sector, is composed of grains and oilseeds; livestock, primarily cattle and hogs; sugar; cocoa; coffee; cotton; and orange juice. Ethanol for fuel, but produced from corn, sugar cane, or other crop has become an increasingly important agricultural product. Grains and oilseeds include wheat, corn, soybeans and also barley, sorghum grain, oats, flaxseed and rye. Normally grains are stored or sold to a country elevator where they are weighed, sampled, classified, and graded. Next, they are moved directly to a processor or sold as feed, or they are sold to a specialized terminal or river elevator where grains are aggregated for bulk movement into domestic processing or export channels. The exchange markets have designated elevators for grains traded on their markets.

Unlike the demand for grains, livestock demand is primarily domestic. Cattle producers and/or feedlots sell market-ready cows at auction or directly to a packing operation. Hog producers sell their market-ready hogs directly to packers or though auctions and buying stations. There are a number of competing exchange-traded futures contracts as well as OTC swaps contracts and various options. Primary drivers of agricultural commodity prices are supply, demand, seasonality, carry-over, and the stocks-to-use ratio.

The World Agricultural Outlook Board (WAOB), within the office of the Chief Economist, serves as USDA’s focal point for economic intelligence and the commodity outlook for U.S. and world agriculture. It coordinates, reviews, and approves the monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, as well as the Department’s annual, ten-year agricultural commodity market projections. The WAOB also releases annual projections covering agricultural commodities, trade, and aggregate indicators of the sector for the next decade. The monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report provides annual projections while the long-run projections are available in its Baseline Projections. In addition, in February each year, USDA Chief Economist releases preliminary projections for domestic supply and demand of agricultural commodities at USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum. The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is a major source of data on crops and livestock.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Online Resources

The following are major sources of information about agricultural production.

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