Suppose you decide to build a house. Would you buy the materials first, or would you draw up the blueprints and then schedule subcontractors and get the materials?
In grain merchandising, having a “blueprint” of your facility’s logistics is also an important first step. I don’t mean literally having a blueprint of the bins or the trackage, but knowing your operation’s capacity for throughput — the logistics of when and how much grain you can receive, store, and ship. Trying to merchandise without a current blueprint is like building that house without a plan.
The goal of grain merchandising is maximizing revenue from your assets like inventory, capital, concrete, steel and transportation. Review your assets and quantify your shipping capacity and freight position before you start your spring and summer merchandising. Many merchandisers do a good job of evaluating and trading the basis; fewer manage their logistics as effectively. This group may find themselves having to pass on good basis opportunities, or sell into weaker values just to manage transportation problems. The best basis opportunity won’t improve your bottom line if you can’t execute, i.e., you can’t ship what you need, when you want or if you have to pay-up for freight to meet obligations.
Logistical “blueprints” typically start at an end point or objective and work backward. Sound like a strange way to plan an operation? Consider this example: You need to reduce inventory to a certain level by a specified date. Perhaps you want to have only 10% of your space full on Day 1 of harvest in order to accommodate new-crop receipts. A logistics worksheet helps you develop a shipping blueprint so you can reach the desired inventory level in time. Assume it’s May 1; you have 400,000 bushels of inventory and want no more than 50,000 bushels on hand on October 1. You also project you’ll buy and take in 250,000 more bushels before harvest.
A simple logistics analysis would show; This example is abbreviated and simplistic, and the numbers are intentionally small to draw attention to the issues rather than the numbers. But the process is the same whether you load three trucks/day or three trains/week.
An actual logistics worksheet has to show more than one grain; and it should show your shipping capacity by month and by different modes, and ideally should show a transportation position. You can be long or short freight just as easily as you can be long or short the basis. Show your freight position by time slots: The worksheet should also list forward sales — by time slots — to further aid in planning. You can do a good logistics worksheet manually but it’s far easier to use an Excel spreadsheet where you can also run “What if” scenarios and other analyses.
In this scenario you have to ship 600,000 bushels between May 1 and September 15 to be down to 50,000 bushels. If your shipping capacity is 200,000 bushels per month — without interruption — you’ll be shipping at top capacity every day for three months in order to be ready. May 1 to September 15 is 4.5 months so you would need to start paying close attention to basis opportunities, for both nearby and deferred time slots.
Analyze shipping capacity
Shipping capacity includes:
1. Load-out capacity: The maximum number of trains, cars, trucks, etc, that you can realistically load, working at your elevator’s physical capacity. Consider the number of employees and shifts you currently have working to identify what you might need to do to meet your objectives.
2. “Wheels”: the maximum number of trucks, railcars or barges you can secure and at what cost.
3. Destination limitations: Also consider the receiving capacity at your destination. For example, you may be able to load out 15,000 bushels/day, but your destination market is typically only open four days/week. That will reduce your shipping capacity unless you have trucks and drivers that will wait overnight to unload. Some destinations allocate truck quotas per day to shippers to avoid such congestion and limit receipts.