Using subsurface drip irrigation, Nebraska farmer Don Anthony has maintained big corn and soybean yields while improving his watering efficiency by 35% or more. Like many western Corn Belt and southern High Plains growers with limited annual rainfall, Anthony has counted on irrigation as a staple for his corn, soybeans and other crops.
Despite the recent USDA grain stocks report projecting bullish prices for old-crop corn, there are signs that high prices are crippling regional livestock feeders who rely on Midwest corn for some 60% of their grain rations.
Still leery of using futures after such debacles as MF Global and Peregrine Financial? Are you unsure of how futures contracts truly function? A mini-corn or mini-soybean contract can provide some real-life futures trading lessons without manufacturing a major margin call.
Keith and Brian Berns rarely get a day off in their corn, soybean and rye/triticale rotation. Their separate entity, a cover-crop seed operation, makes sure of it. But the diversified enterprises provide more overall profit potential in volatile marketing environments. The Berns brothers no-till about 2,500 acres outside Bladen, Neb.; about 30% of those are irrigated. Some of both irrigated and dryland acres are used for cover-crop seed production, marketed through Green Cover Seed. The brothers’ company, formed in 2009, markets several lines of legumes, broadleaves, grasses and radishes, turnips and other exotic Brassicas.
When the big ball dropped in Times Square to usher in 2013, it resembled the path of soybean and other grain prices that began the year tumbling down. Price volatility – up one week, then down the next – is the new normal. Looks like it’s here to stay. November 2013 soybean futures, which closed at $12.84/bu. Jan. 7, saw a $3/bu. swing from June to early September, a $150/acre swing in return for a 50-bu. crop. They jumped from $11.40 to near $14.40.
With the likelihood of lower premium rates and better overall coverage, federal revenue crop insurance should provide farmers with tools to potentially insure profit margins for 2013 crops, says Bruce Sherrick, a University of Illinois farmdoc farm management specialist. He stresses that with crop price protection levels likely in the $5.70/bu. range for corn and about $12.75/bu. for soybeans, “adequate margins may be insurable again this year.”
“Know them and respect them. But don't let seasonal trends be your only pricing guide.” That’s Ed Usset’s advice about historic corn and soybean price trends. Except for Corn Belt drought years like 1988, 1995 and 2012, you’re more likely to see higher prices for corn and beans in March through June than from July on, says the University of Minnesota Extension grain marketing specialist. Today’s price volatility, however, creates massive spikes in prices that can provide great marketing opportunities virtually year-round.
Dwayne Beck admits right away that his farm “is research.” Why else would he alternate alfalfa with continuous corn? Say what? That’s a sampling of the different farming approach he takes at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, Pierre, S.D. The producer-owned farm, also part of South Dakota State University’s ag research program, is led by Beck’s no-till-or-nothing approach. He takes conservation farming to the next level.
It was mid-July and corn jumped $2/bu. over early June. That $7.40 would yield a sweet profit. But drought-driven $9 was “guaranteed” around the co-op coffee pot. Your co-op buddies just knew it. So did some pro analysts. When it pegged at $8.40+ about Aug. 10, you weren’t going to be the one who sold too soon. And in late September, when corn was back down to $7.40, you were still unsold. And you still weren't when it rebounded after the mid-October crop report and closed at $7.65 on Oct. 19.
Does marketing your corn or soybeans drive you nuts? Does pulling the trigger cause you to break out? Like it or not, marketing and prudent risk management is as important as making a good crop. For farmers with little marketing discipline, a decision grid can help solidify their risk-management program, says Carl German, University of Delaware Extension grain marketing specialist. He helped lead a USDA Northeast Center of Risk Management Education program to devise a marketing decision aid several years ago.
“Don’t pull a VeraSun.” Illinois Extension Economist Scott Irwin’s warning is for growers who may teeter on economic catastrophe if they pay high prices for fertilizer or other inputs without matching them with corn or soybeans sales. His reference to the bankrupt biofuels company – which apparently failed to hedge against grain it purchased – illustrates the enormous financial risks farmers take.
A new Risk Management Agency (RMA) program could minimize the misery for Hoosier Brian Kemper and thousands of other growers who have suffered through the dire-straits drought that rivals the anguish of 1988.
When you farm 35,000 acres in five states, balancing input purchases with crop pricing can boost the bottom line. But a leading indicator to make one of those trades may not keep you from lagging on the other in the decision-making process. That’s Donny DeLine’s attitude. He doesn’t always market the same percentage of corn or soybeans to match production with inputs bought. But if both ends of the spectrum look good, he takes action. In fact, early fertilizer purchases and bulk buys last summer helped him save 20% or more over prices this spring. And by booking corn early, he had almost 50% of it priced at $6 or higher.
Huge market rallies in late June saw December 2012 corn jump from $5.05/bu. to $6.44 within two weeks. They swelled 40¢ on June 25 – hello limit-up – on the back of Corn Belt drought fears. They blew through $6.20 on June 26 and $6.40 on the 27th. And by mid-July, the price-surging weather market shot Dec corn to $7.80.