Talk of the fiscal cliff wore me down. It reminded me of the buzz surrounding Y2K at the new millennium. What happened on January 1, 2000? The sun rose in the East and I had a cup of coffee. Life as we know it continued to march forward. I expected the same from a fiscal cliff.
Oops. Instead of leaping over the fiscal cliff, at year-end we found ourselves at the edge of a commodity cliff. Grain prices took a dive. The sun continues to rise but corn and soybean prices are nearly 10% cheaper. The January crop report offered no cushion.
Is this a big problem for holders of old-crop grain? I’m sure some farmers were hurt, but I get the sense that there isn’t a whole lot of last year’s short crop sitting in the bin unpriced. The 2012 crop is last year’s news. I think it is best to look ahead.
So, speaking of cliffs and taking a leap, where do you stand on pricing 2013 corn and soybeans? Over the past few years, I’ve had a tendency to be a little too early and a little too cheap with pricing opportunities. So this year I made it a point to drag my feet. I celebrated the New Year with a few modest sales of 2013 grain. This time, thanks to the cliff, I can say I was too late and too cheap.
Marketing is not easy!
Too early one year and too late the next – when is the right time to take the leap and start pricing a crop? This is a popular question and there is, of course, no simple answer. But let me offer a few guidelines for too early and too late.
Too late is mid-summer. By the time you are confident that your crop has weathered the most difficult development stages, most of your neighbors have reached the same conclusion… and the best pricing opportunities are in the rearview mirror. Seasonal price patterns point to spring as the best time for new-crop sales. As last year’s drought reminds us, this is not true every year; droughts have a tendency to upset seasonal patterns. Rallies happen, and I hope to make more 2013 new-crop sales between mid-March and mid-June.
Too early is more than 20 months before harvest. Quotes are available for pricing your 2014 corn and soybean crops (at a 20¢ discount to 2013 values). Quotes are also available for 2015 (another 10¢ discount in corn, 30¢ in soybeans). Don’t stop now – two months ago trading began in the November 2016 soybean and the December 2016 corn futures contracts (still more discounts).
Put aside those irritating discounts: Why not start today? Do you know your fuel costs almost two years in advance? How much will you pay in land rent? What will be your seed and fertilizer costs? That’s too many questions for my comfort level. Pricing grain more than one year out is a leap of faith.
Still worried about the lingering drought? So am I. 2013 arrived anyway, and planting is just months away. Despite the cliff, prices are good. It’s time to take the leap.