As I write this article the second week of March, the corn, soybean and wheat futures prices have fallen sharply lower in the last two weeks as commodity funds liquidated long positions and wheat futures appear to have put in a seasonal top.
With the huge amount of money now in the ag futures markets, and with corn open interest more than 1 million contracts, we are likely to see some wild price swings with large inter-day price swings this spring and summer. Now as we enter the time when corn and soybean prices usually peak, it's time to get ready, get set — sell.
Get ready: I've suggested that most of my customers have at least 60-80% of the 2005 corn and soybean crops sold at this writing. Late April-early May is the best time to lock in the basis on the balance of your cash inventory. I would suggest a July basis chart, since that will allow you to lock in the futures price by the end of June.
I'm concerned that if the futures rally because of a weather scare, your current basis level is likely to get even worse. Another benefit is that once you've hauled the grain in and fixed the basis, you'll know exactly how many bushels you have left to sell. Then, based on the futures price, you'll know exactly how much income your crops will generate.
Get set: Once your basis is locked in the key is to have a disciplined scale-up selling plan in place. If you look at the Central Corn Belt Cash Bids chart you can see that getting corn sold into June and July is probably your merchandising alternative. The same is true for soybeans. You should have all of your cash soybeans sold by no later than June 30.
For the cash corn you have to price, first put together a price plan. The price targets that I suggest are to have offers in on July corn at $2.52, $2.64 and $2.76. Based on last year's yield, and the large LDPs that were available last year, this should represent an excellent profit level for most corn farmers.
I also like to use a time plan. Consider sales between May 12-June 23. The odds of going to $2.76 are about one in three during that time, so that's why you need to make at least three sales and have the cash corn sales wrapped up by June 30.
For cash soybeans you have to sell, I'd also put together a price and time plan. The price targets that I'm suggesting, using the July CBOT soybean futures, are to make sales at $6.38, $6.58 and $6.88. The odds of going up to $6.88 or higher are about one in five, so that's why having a time plan is essential.
Sell: If you agree with the logic of getting the crop sold, call in your offers. The best pricing opportunities often develop when you're busy planting. A well thought out marketing plan won't do you any good unless you execute that plan. Keep in mind that some very bullish fundamental events will develop before and after these price targets are hit, so don't let the news of the day change your plan.
If you get all of your cash corn and soybeans sold using this scale-up selling plan, odds are good that the 2005 crop will have been sold at a good profit level. The next step is to look at making additional new-crop corn and soybean sales.
If you would like help in putting together a marketing plan, e-mail me or write to request a marketing profile. Based on the information you provide we can put together a sample marketing plan that is specific to your farm. E-mail the request to [email protected]  or send it to Northland Commodities, 400 South Fourth St., Box 15033, Minneapolis, MN 55415.
Alan Kluis is the owner of Northland Commodities LLC based in the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Minneapolis, MN. You can contact him at [email protected]  or call toll free 888-345-2855.