Cash Grain Update—Sept. 14
Storage for both corn and soybeans looks unfavorable
Spot corn and soybean basis has made slight gains so far this month. Spot corn moved up half a cent while spot soybeans increased a penny. The Gulf has done little to support both markets as corn basis gained one cent and soybean basis actually lost four cents. Barge rates also hampered the cash market as prices along the Illinois and Ohio Rivers have gone up couple cents in the last nine days. Rates on the Ohio River are currently sitting four cents above their five year average.
Taking a look at the carry in the cash market, storage for both corn and soybeans looks unfavorable. The average cash forward contract carry in the corn and soybean markets is 9 cents per bushel for five months of storage.
This compares to a nearly 22 cent carry in the corn market recorded at this time during the last two
years. The soybean cash forward carry is looking similar to the situation in 2010 when the carry was 10 cents storing until July. Last year the soybean market provided a 25 cent carry with five months of storage.
Feed & Grain Expands Newsletter
Introducing Monday edition to provide a
If you’re one of the nearly 9,000 people who receive Feed & Grain’s Industry Watch E-newsletter, thank you for taking the time each week to open and read our offering. Our staff closely follows news on the critical issues that impact the feed and grain industry, and we’re dedicated to sharing it with you in an easy-to-read format.
For the past two years, we’ve been mailing Industry Watch each Tuesday and Thursday, and we can see that many of you regularly click on the stories that matter most to you. Our newsletter stories, covering topics from the 2012 drought, Hurricane Isaac, Renewable Fuel Standard repeal, the Farm Bill and the presidential election, have become some of the most popular items on our web site this summer.
Between the success of Industry Watch and the results of a recent reader survey, the message is loud and clear: News is very important to you! So, starting Monday Sept. 17, Feed & Grain will be adding a third installment to our Industry Watch schedule.
Think of our Monday e-newsletter as the feed and grain industry’s “Weekend Update” — sadly without the hilarity of Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler’s or Seth Meyers’ delivery — featuring top headlines from Friday through Sunday, because we know that weather, political campaigning and even legislation doesn’t stop over the weekend. You don’t have to do anything to receive the third mailing — everyone who currently receives Industry Watch will receive the new Monday edition.
And breaking news isn’t the only reason to check out Industry Watch. Our format includes a Web Exclusive section with blog postings, videos, infographics and articles selected for online delivery only (you won’t find these in print!) as well as Supplier Briefs, covering the latest news from equipment manufacturers, distributors and service providers. It also provides access to some of Feed & Grain’s staple offerings, such as a digital edition of our current issue and links to all of our Online Buyer’s Guide categories.
So again, thank you for your loyalty to Feed & Grain’s Industry Watch, and let us know what else we can do to improve it. And if you don’t already subscribe, simply register to start staying connected to the industry through our e-newsletter. If there are any topics, issues or trends you want to see us cover more — email me and let me know!
Web Meetings: Work Smarter Not Harder
Utilization of online web meeting tools can be a great edition to your workday and business.
- Meeting with John Doe in Waterloo to go over grain contracts
- Meeting with Bob Doe in Valley to go over 2012 grain programs
- Board meeting in Main Office to discuss new storage facility
- All company safety meeting at Duncan location
- Present 2013 Budget to General Manager in Main Office
Does this type of schedule look familiar to you? It’s hard to get much done in a day when you are running all over the country. Today, you can become more efficient if you utilize the new communication technologies that provide web meeting services.
A Web meeting will work great to conduct your meeting with John Doe, discuss his existing grain contracts by sharing the screen on your computer with him or let him take control and share his screen with you. If you really want to add the personal touch you can even activate the camera on your computer and show your face.
What is needed to do a web meeting?
- Web meeting service provider
- Computer for all participants
- High Speed Internet for all participants (84% of farmers have high speed internet)
To start all you need to do is log into your account; in this case I’m using www.gomeeting.com,
Then click on host a meeting and a screen will be presented to enter the meeting information. A meeting email is then automatically formatted for you to send to the recipients.
The recipient then clicks on the link in the email at the scheduled meeting time and everything begins to appear on their screen in a few short minutes.
The monthly service fee starts at around $50 per month for unlimited meetings. This fee can easily be justified by eliminating one or two drives to a meeting. The monthly subscription is only charged to the business hosting the meeting; guests do not pay any fees to utilize the service.
I believe this is a must have service for today’s agribusinesses.
A few web meeting service providers are:
Organize Your Online Life
EVERNOTE is a software application making its way to the top of the digital organization industry.
Today agricultural professionals spend more time than ever before on the computer reading email, searching the internet, working with software applications and entertaining themselves. Keeping your digital life organized continues to be a challenge with emails you want to keep, web pages you want to save and documents that need filed.
EVERNOTE is a software application that has made its way to the top of the digital organization industry. EVERNOTE can be installed on your smart phone, tablet, laptop and desktop. Once installed you have access to all the digital information you have organized in one convenient place no matter what device you are using.
So when you get to work in the morning and you receive an email with a detailed quote for a new grain bin you want to build, all you need to do is “forward” the email to your private EVERNOTE account ABCgrain@m.evernote.com and then you have access to the email on all of your computer devices, this comes in very handy if you are out of the office and need to have a copy of the email.
Now imagine you are visiting the Feed and Grain website and you find an article you would really like to keep, all you need to do is click on the EVERNOTE Elephant button in the upper right hand corner of your web browser and file the article to your EVERNOTE account.
EVERNOTE can be found incorporated into many of the browsers you are currently using such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox & Safari. Just look for the “elephant” and you will find EVERNOTE.
Finally, imagine you are visiting some local farmers and taking pictures of fields, bin sites, etc., and you want to file the pictures for futures use; simply send the picture via email to your EVERNOTE account.
We all struggle with how the manage the endless amounts of information, EVERNOTE is a great option to help tackle the the challenge. You can give the service a free try by going to www.evernote.com .
Food Defense: Is Your Company Secure?
In January, during my visit to Two Rivers Cooperative, general manager Tracy Gatham described the cooperative
Summer 2012 = Climate Change Proof?
Debate heats up over whether it's a fluke or sign of things to come
As I write this post at 8 in the morning in Southern Wisconsin, the mercury has already hit 85 degrees. Nearly all of Indiana, Iowa and Illinois along with the lower halves of Wisconsin and Michigan are under heat advisories and at least ¾ of the country has a hazardous weather outlook, according to the National Weather Service.
By now, many Midwesterners have grown tired of the chatter about the drought and the heat wave. We’ve almost become accustomed to the conditions, as you might imagine we would like the folks living in Arizona or Florida have. But we all know relief will come eventually — if only in the form of fall — and surely next summer will be cooler. But what if this outrageous weather pattern becomes the rule and not the exception?
If this indeed is climate change rearing its ugly head, more summers like this are in store.
As Seth Borenstein wrote for the Huff Post, “Climate scientists suggest that if you want a glimpse of some of the worst of global warming, take a look at U.S. weather in recent weeks.
Horrendous wildfires. Oppressive heat waves. Devastating droughts. Flooding from giant deluges. And a powerful freak wind storm called a derecho.
These are the kinds of extremes experts have predicted will come with climate change, although it's far too early to say that is the cause. Nor will they say global warming is the reason 3,215 daily high temperature records were set in the month of June.”
The millions of residents on the East coast who had to endure 100-degree-weather without power or air conditioning represent only the immediate consequences of unpredictable bad weather. Looking long-term, the drought and disasters will be responsible for driving down yields for nearly all crops in the United States this year.
Although 2012 saw the most acres of corn planted since the 1930s, the yield is likely to be even lower than current official government forecasts. In June, the USDA projected a record 166 bushels of corn/acre, but now the projection is down to 146 bushels/acre. Considering the already tight stocks for most commodities, lower than expected yields will lead to higher prices/bushel and will wreak havoc on the futures market.
Economy 101 lessons for the day: High commodity prices will eventually translate to higher ingredient prices, higher animal feed prices, and higher food prices, not to mention fuel prices, which can be effected by corn prices due to ethanol mandates. This surely isn’t a scenario anyone wants to see year after year.
Fortunately, there’s hope that 2012’s disasters aren’t indicative of long-term climate change, and this is merely a cyclical pattern. Weather.com’s Nick Wiltgen reports that we’ve seen summers like this before.
For as hot as it is, 2012 isn’t the hottest or even second hottest on record. The years 1934, 1936, 1987 and 1988 all fared worse than this summer in the April to June timeframe, according to the National Climate Data Center.
The article also notes the 2012 summer bears “striking similarities in regional patterns of heat and dryness compared to the droughts of the 1950s … Some indicators ‘suggest that the 2012 drought is similar to the 1950s drought in extent, pattern, and intensity, although not in duration.’”
Only time will tell if 2013 and beyond will bring similar climate our way. Feed & Grain has been talking about the weather all year. Stay tuned for more of our insights on crucial weather events as they impact our industry, the economy and the rest of the world.
Organic Valley: A Social Experiment
Organic cooperative discusses its social media crisis communication strategy
Production and animal agriculture producers may or may not be shocked to discover that its organic brethren is also frequently subjected to the wrath of critics — and, often, based on similar accusations. Agvocates of all sorts can learn a thing or two from the crisis communications strategies of Organic Valley (OV).
Two marketing representatives from the La Farge, WI-based organic farm cooperative discussed their proactive approach to social media and engagement management at a Social Media Breakfast event held in Madison, WI. While Leslie Kruempel, OV’s social media specialist, focused on the creative business-to-consumer programs it uses Facebook and Twitter to promote, the frank discussion of the cooperative’s struggle with three social-media-fueled PR crises proved especially interesting.
Greg Brickl, OV’s marketing communications director, explained that compared to its primary competition, a publically traded company who sources some of its organic products from factory farms (a faux pas within the organic community), OV’s dedication to organic ideology and its commitment to small family farms made the decision to enter the social sphere “a no brainer.” Today, the company has more than 15,000 Twitter followers and 206,000 Facebook “likes,” a fan base primarily comprised of the mothers of young children.
Social media damage control
According to Brickl, community engagement in its social space breaks into two factions: “98% Love vs. 2% Something Else.” His presentation focused on the later, highlighting three recent incidents that incited public outcry across its social media channels and how the cooperative managed the discourse.
The “Three Meltdown – 10 Months” break down as such:
- Raw milk: In late 2011, OV’s board of directors decided to uphold a long-standing tenant of its membership agreement that stipulates that all milk produced on the OV member farms be delivered to the cooperative for production and sale, measure that not only addressed supply concerns, but safe-guarding the cooperative from any potential public safety issues. “Passionate” raw milk consumers, who purchased their raw milk from these dairies, turned to Facebook for four weeks, bombarding its page with hostile commentary.
“Legit beef? Maybe. I understand that we were coming between them and their raw milk source,” Brickl said, but insisted the action was within the cooperative’s right to protect the integrity of the brand.
During this time the cooperative could not effectively use social media as a marketing tool. Even though OV had "hid" its comment wall, anytime it posted an image or a status update — regardless of the content of the post — the Facebook comment streams would be taken over by the raw milk advocates. As a result, the marketing team spent a lot of energy responding to the negative feedback.
- Egg/hen + PETA: After treehugger.com and PETA posted a picture purported to expose a subpar OV egg laying facility, consumers leveled an attack on OV’s social sites yet again.
“They weren’t our chickens, it wasn’t one of our farms, but we spent another month dealing with consumer vitriol,” said Brickl, he noted that Organic Valley strictly abides by organic poultry standards.
- Coexistence: In 2010, OV’s CEO met with Secretary Tom Vilsack and biotechnology to discuss the deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa, a staple of a dairy cow's diet. While OV advocated to keep GM alfalfa illegal, once the USDA took that option off the table, OV advocated for very strict restrictions. OV’s acceptance of coexistence and its willingness to work with biotech and the USDA led to the cooperative’s latest social media challenge as angry followers insinuated OV “was in bed with Monsanto,” a claim the cooperative vehemently denies.
“Anybody who knows anything about us knows we’ve spent the entirety of our existence fighting for a food system that is the antithesis of what Monsanto stands for,” Brickl asserted.
The marketing team deems the severity of this ongoing issue a 10 because they have come under attack from many angles, and incorrect Internet articles are difficult to rebut when the source is not a legit news outlet.
Social crisis communications tactics
“We learned very quickly that we needed to establish a plan,” Brickl said. He suggests that companies have a social media crisis communications plan in place prior to an incident. Here are the actions OV took to manage the various issues it has faced:
- Stick to the plan, but be ready to change it for effect
- Respond to every complaint quickly
- Formulate responses not just for the one, but for many (the people reading the feed)
- Do not use robotic PR speak
- Do not censor posts or ban users unless they violate etiquette guidelines
- Tell the truth!
[Source: Organic Valley's “Social Media and Food” slideshow.]
One tactful way to address individuals determined to derail productive engagement is to develop and post etiquette guidelines on the site as you “can’t ban someone unless you’ve given them the rules.” Brickl advises page administrators not block or delete the comments of its critics; however, should it need to block unruly commentators, these guidelines will support that action without reeking of censorship.
In the end, it’s the responsibility of all producers — organic or not — to educate consumers about the truths of farming and agribusiness rather than allow misinformed detractors to control perceptions. Social media offers the direct messaging opportunities and instant feedback unrivaled by traditional advertising and public relations campaigns.
Additional take-a-ways from the presentation:
- Not everyone knows the difference between pasture butter and regular butter. Consumers and producers debate the differences here.
- To evoke comments and engagement, don’t be afraid to post cutesy photos and light-hearted banter to add character to the brand as demonstrated with this image.
- If there is a Social Media Breakfast in your area, it’s free so I suggest you attend. Visit the website or “like” it on Facebook for a list of events.
To view a photo gallery from the event, visit Social Media Breakfast Madison’s Facebook album.
Drop the Complexity of Document Management with Dropbox
Advice on how document storage and sharing services can help grain elevator and feed mill managers
Have you ever found yourself needing access to a particular document you had stored on a jump drive or work computer? If you use multiple computers and mobile devices such as phones or tablets there is no doubt this has happened to you.
Dropbox is brilliant technology that gives you secure access to all your work documents such as client invoices, grain contracts, pictures, marketing pieces and any other documents. These files can be accessed by any computer or mobile device and can be setup to automatically synchronize whenever an internet connection is detected.
Sharing files with employees or customers is as simple as sending an email invitation to the individual. Once the invitation is accepted they have access to only the file you chose to share with them. Grain elevators or other ag businesses can use Dropbox to give clients access to private files and documents such as grain contracts, cash grain bids, invoices or other data you wish to share with one or multiple clients. When you update a document, the client will also have access to the updated file. Below you will see “ABC Grain Elevator” and then three subfolders “Carlson Farms,” “Frank Farms” and “Grain Bids.” The two client subfolders will be used to share client specific grain contracts or other private data. The “Grain Bids” file will be used to share daily grain bids with all clients.
Documents too large? Have you ever tried to attach a large document to an email only to have it be rejected by the email provider? Dropbox is a quick fix for those large documents, simply store the file on Dropbox and share it with the intended recipients; it’s that easy.
The best news is that you get two gigabytes of space for free, that is a lot of space if all you’re saving is text files such as grain contracts or cash grain bids. If you choose to store all your files on dropbox it will only run you around $10/month for up to 50 gigabytes.
Link to Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/
Edit note: Mark Frank’s blog posts will focus on how agribusinesses can use new technology to improve daily operations.
The commodity plays double-duty as food and fuel source, but which is best for industry?
As I delve into research for my next Focus on Biofuels article, which will analyze the impact of the EPA’s decision to approve the sale of higher ethanol/gasoline blends, I’m confronted with the fact I’m quite torn on the issue of using corn for fuel.
Evidence both in support of and against the widespread adoption of ethanol is mounting. The positives, as pointed out by groups like the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), as well as the U.S. government include:
- Reduced dependency on foreign oil imports
- Rural American jobs creation
- Creation of the beef, dairy and swine feed option, DDGS
- Reduced gas prices
As the economy continues to flounder and the news on jobs and unemployment is grim, it’s encouraging to know there is a sector right here in the Midwest (Wisconsin girl talking) that isn’t losing jobs. In fact, the NCGA reported that in 2011, the U.S. ethanol industry helped support more than 400,000 jobs and contributed $42.4 billion to the Gross Domestic Product, adding $30 billion to household incomes. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
And of course, I, as well as every car-driving American, could live with cheaper gas prices any day. But are we really getting a better value with this less expensive fuel? Let’s examine some negatives to help make that call.
Ethanol’s first downside: lower gas mileage, as a Consumer Reports article from 2011 noted. It tested a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe FFV (Flex Fuel Vehicle) and recorded a drop from 21 highway miles per gallon with conventional gasoline to only 15 with E85 (gasoline blended with 15% ethanol). Similar results were produced with in-city driving tests and the authors noted that a drop in gas mileage should be expected with all current FFVs.
On June 15 the EPA approved the use of E85 in all vehicle manufactured in 2001 or later. I can hardly imagine that cars and trucks that were not designed specifically for E85 would fare any better than the Tahoe FFV in mpg tests.
Not to mention there is evidence that E85 may even be harmful to vehicle and light truck engines, according to an American Petroleum Institute (API) study. (In all fairness, this study was funded by an association that represents the oil and natural gas industry, and the American Coalition for Ethanol quickly pointed out its flaws). The study found that using higher blends such as E85 and E80 (20% ethanol) in vehicle engines resulted in more corrosion, adhesion and abrasion because ethanol has less lubricity than gasoline and it can absorb 50 times more H2O than gasoline alone.
Bringing the debate a little closer to the feed and grain realm, let’s look at ethanol policy and its correlation to corn prices. The Renewable Fuels Standard was a mandate enacted in 2005 that required 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel to be blended into gasoline by 2012. To the feed industry, this definitely goes under the negative column.
The early 2000s saw skyrocketing corn prices, consequentially leading to economic catastrophes for the poultry, swine and beef industries, as corn makes up nearly 60% of the cost of meat production. The RFS is thought to be a main driver of the sharp incline in corn prices and the feed industry continues to support alternative legislation that will reduce strain on the corn market.
Although the EPA’s recent decision about E85 does not regulate the blending of more ethanol into gasoline, it is a green light for ethanol companies to produce 5% more ethanol than they previously were allowed to. Considering 14 billion gallons of ethanol were produced last year, a 5% increase equals a lot of corn.
What do you think? Is corn a good source of renewable fuel or should the government and industry invest more in cellulosic, wind, solar or other green energy sources?
GMO Labeling Gains Popularity
As GMOs face the court the public opinion, are you doing your part to educate the public on agriculture
The 117th edition of the National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) Annual Convention, held in San Francisco in mid-March, drove this sentiment home in its general sessions: While agriculture is one of the greatest growth industries, the coming years will be filled with the unique challenge of restoring the public’s trust in the food system. For those working and living agriculture, it should come as no surprise that much of the content presented by the event’s diverse set of speakers focused on the anti-biotechnology battle being waged in this country — specifically the one against genetically modified (GM) grains and food stuffs.
GMOLargely driven by emotion and misinformation, the vitriolic arguments presented by biotech’s opponents run contrary to the extensive scientific research backing the legitimacy and safety of GM foods. Why then does this movement have such momentum? According to Chris Policinski, Land O’Lakes president and CEO, agriculture has failed to manage the public’s opinions on the food supply by not effectively telling its productivity story, the one only made possible through the use of biotechnology.
Let’s face it, the public has been conditioned to be suspicious of big business (often rightfully so) — and agriculture surely is not exempt from this scrutiny. Big is bad — and consumers intrinsically question whether or not greed-driven corporations (and politicians) have their interests and well-being in mind.
California’s Proposition 37 (also known as “The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act”) highlights this movement. The statute would have called for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified consumer food products. While Prop 37 was defeated during the 2012 election by a narrow margin, the push certainly didn’t end in California. In fact, a number of U.S. states have proposed legislation and pending ballot initiatives in motion.
Do consumers deserve to know where their food comes from and how it is sourced? Absolutely. Should the industry be more transparent? I think so. The tide has shifted, perhaps it’s time the industry takes the initiative and addresses the matter on its own terms.
Earlier this month, Whole Foods became the first major retailer requiring products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labeled by 2018 — and, in time, other major retailers are likely to follow suit. Not knowing where the consumer’s interest in the supply chain will end, grain handling and feed manufacturing industries should keep a keen eye on this issue because we are, after all, ultimately one industry.
Policinski urges individuals and agribusinesses to actively engage with the public in real time via social media and that they reach out to their local and state politicians to tell the story about an industry revving up to feed a growing global population.
What are you doing to tell our story?