On Jan. 11, USDA issued a wealth of information in its reports on the final estimate of the 2012 crops, the grain stocks we have on hand, how it is being used and what will be left when the 2013 crop is ready for harvest. But developing a marketing plan for that, in the face of uncertain weather will be a challenge. What are those weather facts that will be so critical?
The major headline from the USDA's Supply and Demand Report  (pdf) was that corn was being fed to livestock at a greater rate than the market anticipated. Another bullet point was that corn exports will fall below one billion bushels for the first time since the 1970s, compared 2.5 billion bushels just a few years ago. But corn carryout at the end of August will be as low as it can get.
USDA projects season average prices for corn at $6.80-8, and $13.50-15 for soybeans. We are in the low end of that range now after spending most of the marketing year so far in the upper end.
Much of the consensus among those watching the grain market is that the 2012 crop corn and soybeans will have a very tight and volatile cash market with some spot shortages and a strong basis.
As the South American crop gets closer to harvest, November 2013 crop prices  will continue to fade with the potential for lower prices than last year when the crop insurance guarantee is established in February. While beans will be in demand, overall prices will be lower.
As many farmers revise their marketing plan for both the old and new crops, weather will be a critical aspect for the 2013 growing season.
Currently the El Niño-La Niña climate forces are locked in neutral. (Note the black line with the black squares and the last one firmly planted at zero.) Neither one has any advantage over the other; and it has been that way for four consecutive months. The authority on that for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it is as solidly neutral as it has ever been and it will be a few months before there will be a return to either El Niño or a La Niña.
But what is neutral weather. That is what we had after La Niña phased itself out last May and there were no significant weather fronts that moved across the country to release energy and moisture from the atmosphere. So our weather transmission is in neutral for the foreseeable future.
The drought continues according to USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey with 61% of the U.S. in a drought category, down from the 65% in September. But he says the region experiencing the worst drought category has expanded to 6.75% of the U.S., as reflected by the latest issue of the University of Nebraska Drought Monitor .
Currently, drought encompasses over 2/3 of the U.S. cattle inventory and 60% of domestic hay acreage. The wheat crop is rated poor to very poor for 61% of Oklahoma, 49% of Nebraska and 31% of Kansas. Rippey says the Palmer Drought Index in July was 62.1%, second only to the 79.9% in the July 1934 Dust Bowl era.
The challenge for farmers will be how weather and marketing risk is managed. The spring guarantees for crop insurance will be set during the month of February, and crop insurance sign-up is from March 1 to March 15, if you are a first timer, or are changing your arrangements.
While USDA reported that grain stocks will be tight, global demand is being re-focused from the U.S. to South American supplies and U.S. exports are expected to soon diminish in their volume. However, the 2013 crop will soon be planted, and prices could be substantially lower than the 2012 crop with larger production anticipated. Weather risk will have to be managed and eastern Corn Belt farmers have had more moisture than those to the west. Crop insurance remains an option for all, and the sign-up deadline is March 15 for spring-planted row crops.