The markets continue to go nowhere. Corn exports are pacing slower than what USDA is forecasting but farmers aren’t selling. Beans earlier seemingly had upside potential due to South American weather, but couldn’t sustain it. Beans still have some potential in the short term if there is a weather scare in South America, but no one knows how much at this point.
All too often farmers are too focused on cash prices and don’t pay enough attention to their storage expenses. However, if farmers want bigger premiums and profits, they need to think about grain marketing differently than “conventional” wisdom. This is especially true in years when grain prices are at or under breakeven points. Following illustrates mistakes many farmers make who don’t have 100% on-farm storage capacity.
Often farmers make their first and maybe only sale before harvest for December or January delivery to capture some market carry premium while at the same time allowing them to core their bins during the winter. This makes perfect sense for farmers with 100% on-farm storage, but for farmers who don’t have full storage on their farm, it is usually a mistake.
For example, during the past summer corn prices for harvest delivery were $4.10 while January delivery was $4.20. This means there was a 10-cent market carry premium for a farmer to hold their grain after harvest for two months (i.e. 5 cents per month). Seeing this premium farmers tend to sell some of their corn they intend to store at home thinking they are getting a good deal. But now (six months later) corn is under $3.50, and since these farmers don’t want to sell for that price, they pay storage fees at a commercial facility for likely 5 cents per month waiting for prices to increase.
Put another way, these farmers wiped away all market carry profits from the original trade on grain storage fees waiting for higher prices on stored corn in a commercial facility. Many farmers could easily wait for six months looking for a rally in prices while incurring 30 cents in storage fees. In the end these farmers are 20 cents behind (i.e. 10 cents profit on original market carry sale on the stored bushels, less the 30-cent six-month storage fee on any unpriced grain in commercial storage).
Obviously I understand the need to core bins in the winter and I appreciate that farmers are trying to secure market carry with January delivery. However, a better idea would be to sell grain for harvest delivery on that first sale and look to make more sales down the road. Because, many farmers can wait until February or even March to core their bins, this could provide another additional two free months of on-farm storage. This allows for even more time for prices to rally, and possibly even a basis bump. Thus, by waiting, farmers aren’t “giving away any storage.”
It’s difficult for farmers without 100% on-farm storage to estimate their storage needs each year. That’s why I suggest hedging with futures. This allows for flexibility in deciding when, where and how much grain to move. Plus it leaves the option open to pick up market carry premium too. Flexibility in your grain marketing strategy and sometimes “going against the grain” will lead to increased profitability.
Jon grew up raising corn and soybeans on a farm near Beatrice, NE. Upon graduation from The University of Nebraska in Lincoln, he became a grain merchandiser and has been trading corn, soybeans and other grains for the last 18 years, building relationships with end-users in the process. After successfully marketing his father’s grain and getting his MBA, 10 years ago he started helping farmer clients market their grain based upon his principals of farmer education, reducing risk, understanding storage potential and using basis strategy to maximize individual farm operation profits. A big believer in farmer education of futures trading, Jon writes a weekly commentary to farmers interested in learning more and growing their farm operations.
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