In the February 1997 issue of Soybean Digest, I wrote an article titled "Lessons Learned From $5 Corn." Recently a farmer called and asked if I had learned more from $5 corn or $4 soybeans.
I told him I learned a lot from both and that certain marketing methods have worked well in both 1996 and 1998.
With the current cash corn price at less than $1.50 in the western Corn Belt, and soybeans below $4.50, it's hard to believe that farmers have witnessed corn trading above $5 per bushel and soybeans above $9 in the last 27 months.
Here are three marketing methods that worked well both years for corn and soybean farmers.
1) Spread out your corn and soybean sales during the April-to-July period. In the bull market rallies of corn in 1996 and soybeans in 1997, and in the hard down-slide of both in 1998, selling some each month resulted in a good average.
Sure, I wish that I had told everyone to hold off on all sales until July of 1996 and to sell it all in April of 1998. But that kind of hold-and-hope method really backfired for farmers this year. In 1996, still having 20% of the crop to sell in July really brought up the average. This year, the last 10% sale in June brought down the average selling price, but it was still the right marketing decision.
2) Sweep the bin and sell some more new crop when a weekly reversal lower gives a sell signal. In 1996, when prices closed below the previous week's low the week ending July 12, nearby Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures closed at $4.94, and new-crop December CBOT corn futures settled at $3.83. That was 60 cents and 6 cents per bushel off of the highs, but a long way from the lows.
By the fall of 1996, December corn futures dropped to $2.58. In 1998, the reversal on the weekly CBOT soybean chart (see printed article). Nearby CBOT soybean futures closed at $6.35 and November CBOT soybeans were at $6.21. These prices didn't seem high enough to many producers. If you ignored this signal and carried cash soybeans into this fall, you made a big financial mistake.
3) Use discipline and make orderly sales. I was amazed at farmers who sold everything ahead and were caught in the hedge-to-arrive (HTA) debacle in 1996. This year, many sold nothing - they carried most of the '97 crop into the '98 harvest.
Be consistent. Have a written plan that includes price offers and certain key periods that you will sell in. That's just as important as planting on time so you can harvest a big crop.
This year, most areas of the Corn Belt have a good-to-excellent crop yield. The big difference in farmers' profitability is where crops were sold.