Even with unusually strong corn prices this fall, throwing away 50¢/bu. should be against the laws of grain marketing. But it happens to many growers every year. Many can withstand such losses — but many more need that extra return to help offset $2.50-3 diesel, $400-500 anhydrous ammonia and guaranteed higher input costs for virtually anything it takes to raise a crop.
Better use of futures and options can help. So can the use of local forward contracting at different times of the year when distant price levels provide a reasonable profit and the chance to add even more to the price of corn and soybeans.
MarketMaxx at MarketMaxx.net  from The Corn And Soybean Digest enables growers to learn how these marketing tools can help them get more for their crops without facing the threat of margin calls and other potential losses.
University extension economists and their staffs also make available various programs geared toward helping producers become better marketers at a time when price volatility is growing.
Doug Jose heads one of those programs for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). He is host of Market Journal, a UNL television show that features current grain and livestock market commentary and analysis. It reviews proven marketing and management ideas and risk management strategies from UNL and other university and private economists, and provides weather, climate and soil moisture updates. There are also segments featuring seasoned working producers who share their success stories.
Its http://marketjournal.unl.edu/index.shtml  Web site guides users through various links and offers a guide to ag markets. The high-tech program even offers TV podcasts of past editions of the program.
Market Journal is a forum that enables its users to get a better handle on selling and buying grain and livestock, says Jose. He interviews everyone from a corn or bean farmer, feedyard manager, weed scientist or fellow Extension economist. Iowa State's Bob Wisner, Missouri's Ron Plain and others are common guests.
“Farmers need to become better marketers,” says Jose, in between taping sessions at the UNL studio next door to his Lincoln office. “There's more volatility in the last 10 years than in the previous 10 years. We're a more global market, and trends and prices can change overnight.
“If there's a BSE outbreak, it can impact beef prices and hurt demand for grain as feed. International events affect our market quicker and more sharply than in the past. There is more impact from fund and other large-scale speculative trading in ag commodities,” Jose says. “There are just too many things that can cause grain prices to vary at any given time. We feel Market Journal can help producers be better marketers.”
Market Journal is free and available 24/7 on the Web. Another UNL program aimed at improving growing marketing is the new Market Journal Toolbox. It contains 16 video and PowerPoint educational sessions to provide information in agricultural marketing and risk management. It's packaged to provide advice and strategies farmers and ranchers can apply immediately.
Cost for the 16-part toolbox is about $350. But if what you learn can add 50¢/bu. to your 500-acre corn crop, that's an extra $75/acre. One or two passes pays for it. (Go to http://MarketJournal.unl.edu  and click on Market Journal Toolbox, or call 800- 755-7765 for more information.)
At the University of Illinois, the www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/  site offers marketing news, commentary and numerous avenues leading to becoming a better marketer and producer. It features a link to crop insurance information that guides you through finding out the approximate premiums growers in 13 North Central region states may face for this form of risk management coverage.
The Iowa State University Iowa Farm Outlook site, www.econ.iastate.edu/outreach/agriculture/periodicals/ifo/ , features commentary and marketing tips and strategies from Bob Wisner, one of the nation's most respected grain marketing economists. He has links to seasonal pricing data that help growers see which months are historically the best times to sell corn and soybeans.
The Purdue University ag econ page, www.agecon.purdue.edu/ , can be helpful in learning more about becoming a better marketer. So can these Corn Belt and other area university ag econ sites:
University of Missouri, http://muextension.missouri.edu/xplor/agguides/agecon/g00602.htm 
Michigan State University, www.aec.msu.edu/agecon/ 
University of Minnesota, www.cffm.umn.edu/publications 
Ohio State University, http://aede.osu.edu/about/ag.htm 
Texas A&M University, http://agecoext.tamu.edu/ 
Kansas State University, www.agmanager.info/ 
Jose believes growers should take the time to advance their knowledge of marketing and things that can impact it. “It's important to know your cost of production,” he says, “but then there's the decision as to what crops to grow and how much.
“Once the seed goes into the ground, then your cost of production becomes a fixed cost,” he says. “It's important for making basic decisions. If you can achieve a price you know can make a profit, that's fine. That is something to take out of the market. Your cost of production determines whether you are in the business or not.”
UNL, like others, emphasizes taking advantage of seasonal pricing, when prices are typically higher. But like this year, when prices were as high at early harvest as they were in the spring and early summer, decisions must be made as to whether to sell or store corn and wait for projected higher prices in 2007.
“Growers must remember that if they have old crop in the bin, they must be aware of what it costs to store it,” says Jose, noting that it's sometimes hard for growers to actually pull the trigger.
“That's a factor in marketing. Maybe you must have someone else involved, a spouse or consultant, to help make that decision. Women on the farm are often very skilled and feel more confident about marketing,” he says.
Jose isn't sure if more growers are taking steps to write more complicated marketing plans, those with a series of options spreads, etc. “There are still many opportunities to get more involved in marketing,” he says. “There are the ‘new generation’ contracts that let producers market so much per month. That can help growers achieve more orderly pricing.”
No matter who decides when to pull the trigger, good marketing sense is vital. So take advantage of the resources available like Market Journal to improve your marketing skills.
(For more information on futures, options and writing a marketing plan, you can also go to www.MarketMaxx.net .)