February 01, 2013 | Editor's View | Jackie Roembke | Views: 261

Sweeping Change Ahead?

Settlement may provide guidance regarding OSHA

Since I began my tenure as Feed & Grain’s editor, OSHA’s 2009 Letter of Interpretation regarding bin entry and sweep auger operation has remained a point of strife and confusion among our readers.

In the letter, a response to an insurance agent’s inquiry about the restrictions involved with employees working in a grain bin with an energized sweep auger, OSHA stated that it is in violation of the Grain Handling Standard (1910.272 (g) (1) (ii) to do so unless the employer eliminates all hazards posed by an unguarded sweep auger. Many believe the now infamous letter exposed a fundamental lack of understanding of how a sweep auger works — as well as how grain is handled — since the implications would make operation difficult, if not impossible, while remaining in compliance with the standard.

Politicians and industry leaders, like the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), have reached out to OSHA, but despite their efforts, the agency has failed to deliver concrete guidance for acceptable procedures or alternatives for in-bin energized sweep auger operation. However, more than three years later, as these cases are making their way to litigation, grain companies are finally getting a glimpse of what may be expected of them.

Recently, attorneys in Epstein Becker Green’s national OSHA practice group made headway when representing an Illinois grain handler, who despite having “employed a combination of administrative and engineering controls to ensure that no employee was ever within the zone of danger,” received a citation for allowing an employee to operate a sweep auger while in the grain bin.

The law firm contested the citation, and worked with an OSHA area director and regional administrator to develop a set of safety principles to satisfy the “equally effective means or methods” language of the grain standard.

Ultimately, OSHA withdrew the citation; and as part of the settlement agreement, the company will incorporate a set of “10 Sweep Auger Safety Principles,” which if satisfied, would allow an employee to work inside a grain bin with an energized sweep auger. It also developed and submitted for OSHA’s review and approval a “Sweep Auger Policy,” which outlines engineering and administrative controls used to ensure worker safety.

Attorney Eric Conn, head of OSHA practice with Epstein Becker Green, is confident this ruling may guide future policy, and commends the willingness of the agency to work with his client to find a reasonable solution.

While the outcome of this settlement is a step in the right direction, on a national level, an elevator who adheres to these principles is not guaranteed protection from a citation until this or another directive becomes final policy, warns Jess McCluer, NGFA’s director of safety and regulatory affairs.

The outcome of this case may not be the final word on the issue, but it does point to a potential resolution in the near future. To read a detailed account of the case as told by the attorneys involved, click here.

January 20, 2013 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 123

Basis Levels Stagnant on Futures Rally

U.S. average soybean basis levels unchanged on the week as futures prices climbed following the January WASDE, and Grain Stocks report.

Both corn and soybean basis levels saw limited movement this week, as futures markets climbed on renewed concerns about short supplies. For the week, U.S. average corn and soybean basis were unchanged.

In the corn market, higher than expected feed use reported in last week’s USDA report cut the old-crop ending stocks forecast below trade estimates. But, continued lack of business in the export market and ethanol sector has kept basis levels stable to weaker. For the week, ethanol plants lowered their basis by 1-cent a bushel. On Wednesday, EIA showed ethanol production took a hit for the week as production averaged 784,000 bushels per day, the lowest level since the agency started releasing weekly data in June 2010. Grain Hedge still expects final corn use for ethanol to fall short of USDA’s current target of 4,500 MB as weak margins for ethanol producers should limit production.

For the soybean market, Gulf basis levels were off 9 cents a bushel which pushed river terminals down by 3 cents a bushel. Export sales continue to be on a torrid pace as this week’s total of 1.6 MMT was a marketing year high thanks to aggressive Chinese purchases. Domestically, soybean crushing margins have started to weaken but still remain exceptionally high compared to historical norms. For the week, soybean plants increased basis by nearly one-cent a bushel.

January 14, 2013 | Editor's View | Jackie Roembke | Views: 257

Navigating the New Year

Knowledge, guidance lies in past experiences

After almost a decade on the job, I can say with certainty, the last month of each year is a always a blur. Back-to-back issues, relentless deadlines, business travel, planning meetings — it all comes raining down in December. However, for me, it is also one of the most valuable times of the year because I find myself especially connected to Feed & Grain readers, who, to be honest, make it all worthwhile. 

Earlier this week I attended the National Grain & Feed Association’s (NGFA) 41st Annual Country Elevator Conference and Trade Show, held in Omaha, NE. Though very topically diverse, the conference sessions mirrored my December reality with a common theme: “Let the past guide you.” 

Reading my coverage of the event, you may wonder how I came to this conclusion, but to me the connection was obvious. Reading between the lines during the presentations on financial reform, historic weather patterns, and quality control systems, dealing with unfavorable conditions — drought, volatility, the stresses of risk and uncertainty — the ability to cope, strategize and persevere comes from lessons learned from past experiences, either your own or by seeking guidance from those in the agribusiness community who have been there before. It’s that sense of community, the shared experiences, that get us through.

Working the Feed & Grain booth at the trade show, I had the chance to speak to a number of our readers and took time to ask them about the information they hoped to glean from the sessions and bring back to their businesses; about the last year; the management challenges that keep them up at night; and what they would like to read about in the magazine, etc. It may seem like idle chatter, but this one-on-one time is invaluable to me, someone who sits as a spectator on the sidelines of a robust, complex and, oftentimes, nuanced industry.

Meanwhile, in my free time, I have been cold-calling subscribers at random in hopes of tracking the developing trends the magazine should cover in 2013. While this exercise is meant to gather industry insight, I am often floored by the participants’ willingness to share their knowledge and the sincerity I encounter when they elaborate on the challenges they face; to describe the decades of change that have come up around them; and to frankly discuss what they feel the future holds for their business and themselves.

To those of you who have taken the time to chat, you have my gratitude for the keen guidance you have provided; and on that note, to any of you who have considered sending in a story idea or sharing an experience you think may be helpful to one of your peers, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly. After all, I’m here to serve you.

Here’s to the ag community! May we all learn and grow from the year to come.

January 14, 2013 | Editor's View | Jackie Roembke | Views: 144

Top 10 Products & Services of 2012

A collection of the most popular equipment and services of the year

Technology offers an infinite amount of data collection opportunities — too many, some may argue; however, the ease-of-access and accuracy of the information means nothing if you're not going to use it in a way that gives it relevance. When attempting to identify trends, programs like Google Analytics, a service that generates detailed website traffic statistics, allow the numbers — and the consumer — to speak for themselves. 
 
Within a print edition of Feed & Grain magazine, our "Product Spotlight" features aim to provide relevant information by taking a cross-platform approach. You see, each product we run includes a unique URL directing readers to product/company information in our Online Buyer's Guide, allowing the interested party to view additional product information or contact the company directly. This practice, as well as organic searches, account for most of our Buyer's Guide traffic and gives us a solid indication of the products readers are interested in purchasing. 
 
Meanwhile, Feed & Grain's surveys consistently reveal two timeless trends among our readership: a) product information ranks high in terms of relevance and demand; b) almost everyone is interested in reading about what their peers are up to — from a purchasing and best practices standpoint. Then it occurred to me: Why not give them both?
 
Using the data collected by Google Analytics from Jan. 1 until Dec. 31, 2012, here is a list of Feed & Grain's "Top 10 Products" of 2012:
  1. LevAlert Steel Bin Level Indicator by KC Supply Co. Inc.
  2. Bin Whip Series 9250 by Pneumat Systems Inc.
  3. Seedburo Grain Probes by Seedburo Equipment Co.
  4. Continous Flow and Recycling Dryers from LMM LAW-MAROT-MILPRO 
  5. WL Portland Systems Inc.'s Feed Mill Design/Build Services
  6. LMM LAW-MAROT-MILPRO's Rotary Grain Cleaners
  7. Dunbar Kapple Vac-U-Vator by Christianson Systems Inc.
  8. Agridry LLC's Bullseye Grain Temperature/Moisture Controller
  9. Neogen Corp.'s Reveal for Aflatoxin SQ and Accuscan III Reader
  10. Automatic Truck Probe by Intersystems

In addition to satisfying voyeuristic tendencies, hopefully this list will offer someone, somewhere, direction with a future aquisition. 

Remember to visit Feed & Grain's Online Buyer's Guide, the industry's most comprehensive collection of the feed and grain industry's products and services, to search for all your equipment needs. 

Note: Feed & Grain's FREE iPad app, 2013 Equipment & Services Guide, is available at the Apple Store. 

January 08, 2013 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 122

Soybean Basis Jumps while Corn Stays Sluggish

Soybean basis saw double-digit gains in many parts of the country, while lackluster export demand kept corn basis improvements modest

Soybean basis saw double-digit gains in many parts of the country this week as strong export bids and falling barge freight helped push basis levels higher. For the week, U.S. average soybean basis was up 4 cents a bushel while corn

Spot soybeans rose sharply on the river system this week, bolstered by a decline in shipping costs to the lowest levels since before the autumn harvest. An adequate supply of empty vessels on U.S. Midwest rivers pressured barge freight, with shipping costs on the Illinois River falling to the cheapest since August.  Gulf premiums also rose by 10 cents a bushel . On average, river terminals were up 12 cents a bushel for the week while soybean crushing plants lagged behind with a 4-cent advance.

In corn, lack of strong export business continues to plague the market. This week’s paltry sales of only 49,000 MT underscores just how bad the corn export picture really is.  Total year-to-date export sales of corn are 48% below last year, while USDA has pegged exports to fall only 25%.  In the cash markets, corn basis was up modestly across the country thanks to a 6-cent gain at the Gulf. However, ethanol plants continue to show spotty needs. Some plants in ND and MN drove basis higher to start the New Year while plants in IA were mostly weaker. On average, ethanol plants were up 2.5 cents for the week.

December 21, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 131

Basis Levels Inch Higher

Basis levels were up modestly this week with sluggish demand keeping cash markets mostly quiet. On average across the U.S., spot corn basis managed a one cent gain for the week while spot beans were up 2 cents.

In the corn market, ongoing demand struggles for exports and ethanol has kept basis levels mostly stable. While December is a time of usually increasing basis levels, for this year December has seen only a modest 2 cent improvement in US average basis. Weak export conditions have taken its toll on the Gulf where basis levels backed off 6 cents for the week.  In the ethanol market, EIA’s weekly ethanol report showed production was down 2,000 barrels per day from last week and stocks of ethanol were sharply higher. Even with falling corn prices, margins continue to be weak for ethanol producers as prices for ethanol have fallen sharply as well. Since Dec 1, corn prices have come down 50 cents a bushel while ethanol prices have fallen 23 cents a gallon or 62 cents a bushel-equivalent, putting pressure on margins. Basis levels at ethanol plants did improve modestly this week, posting a 1.5 cent gain.

For soybeans, slower overall export demand along with news of Chinese export cancellations put pressure on futures markets, and helped slow basis growth. So far in December, US average soy basis is up 8 cents, but this week basis levels were up 2 cents. Soy processors were actually lower on the week as signs of less export business and significantly lower soymeal prices start to cut into crush margins. At the Gulf, export basis was off 8 cents.  

December 19, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 106

Soy Basis Surges on Demand Strength

US average soybean basis levels were up 4 cents a bushel for the week, bolstered by a strong crush and export sector.

U.S. average soybean basis levels were up 4 cents a bushel for the week, bolstered by a strong crush and export sector.

The soybean basis strength was greatest around the river system especially southern reaches of the Mississippi river and the Ohio river. River markets on average gained 7 cents a bushel on basis for the week, helped by a 5-cent gain at the Gulf where exports are robust. This week’s export sales report showed a marketing year high of 1.3 MMT of business for soybeans, with 1.0 MMT going to China. Also buoying the bean market is strong domestic crush.  NOPA’s monthly crush estimate of 157.3 mb for November is the biggest November crush since 2009 and the biggest monthly figure overall since January 2010. Domestic crush operators increased basis levels by 4 cents for the week

For corn, basis levels reflect the state of demand with basis levels up a modest 1-cent a bushel for the week.  Ethanol production was off 1.3% this week reflecting continued tight margins for ethanol plants. On average, ethanol plants were unchanged on basis for the week suggesting producers have little room to bid up basis even with tight pipeline supplies of corn. In the export market, the U.S. continues to see sluggish sales and stiff competition from Brazil suggesting prices may need to back off if export numbers are going to accelerate and meet USDA’s annual forecast. This week, Gulf basis plummeted 16 cents a bushel and river markets followed lower as well, losing 4 cents on the week.

December 19, 2012 | From the Field | Jackie Roembke | Views: 101

Time For A Break

Stepping back allows you to put things into perspective

A friend of mine can quote just about every line from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and, I think, give a full description of at least four versions of “A Christmas Carol.” While I can’t do that, I have to admit, I do enjoy this time of year.

Yes, we’re tying up all the loose ends of one fiscal year and plunging ahead into the next. And we probably all look at our budget numbers, hoping that hard work, sweat, intelligence and a bit of fresh thinking make them achievable. But growing up on a farm, with all of the things that can and did go wrong, I always tried to look at the bright spots and always tried to figure out what the tough times taught us. 

One of the things I learned, after watching Mom and Dad work so hard for all those years only to see the farm fade away, is that it’s important to step back, take a breath and enjoy the moment.

I do reflect on our business and what we did right and what we did wrong, what we must learn to do better, and what we should learn to never do again.

In talking with my boss, my peers and my team, I try to make sure I stay open-minded. No, it’s not easy. But the energy of fresh ideas, of smart people trying to uncover new concepts or ways of doing things, is important. And it ought to become infectious.

Soon, though, all the kids will be here. I’ll make time for my neighbors, my friends, my family. We’ll bake cookies, we’ll watch the Packers, we’ll play cards, we’ll talk smart and tell stories, and we’ll laugh.  It’s the break we need to help us put things in perspective. It’s the pause that lets us put our minds into something other than full work mode. 

Even if it’s just for a moment, I hope you can make the time to do that this holiday season.  There are challenges and successes ahead. It’s what keeps us sharp and active. Taking a break is what keeps us fresh and energized.

Best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

December 06, 2012 | Tech Talk | Jackie Roembke | Views: 126

Cloud Accounting with Freshbooks

Solution removes confusion, frustration and long hours spent invoicing clients

You provide your service or product to your farm clients and you are ready for the fun part which is getting paid, right?  Not so quick, you still have to prepare an invoice for your transactions, send it to clients and then hope you get paid in a timely manner. The work involved in invoicing and waiting to be paid takes the fun out of getting paid.

When it comes to handling billing, the range of solutions can be anywhere from using a sophisticated accounting system to something as basic as an invoice template in a word processor. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages.  In addition to the high cost of implementing a high end accounting system, the learning curve involved in mastering the system and the accounting knowledge can be a steep learning curve. In many cases, such systems can be overkill for many small to medium size businesses. On the other end of the spectrum, using a basic invoicing template is straight forward and you can establish your own process that fits your needs for the time being, but as your business grows, things will get out of hand and you will outgrow your processes. Neither the high end billing system nor the basic one give you a quick way to get paid as fast as you would like.

FreshBooks is simple and intuitive, so accounting isn't intimidating. It’s a solution that removes the confusion, frustration and long hours spent on invoicing clients and also provide a solution to get you paid faster by giving your clients a way to pay their invoice online through a credit card or electronic check payment (ACH). Freshbooks offer the following benefits:

  • Easy to setup your clients and generate invoices.
  • Invoices delivered to clients through email or postal service.
  • Option to allow clients to pay invoices online with a credit card or electronic check payment.
  • Ability to schedule Recurring billing.
  • Late payment fees and reminders to your clients.
  • Client credit and refunds.
  • Estimates - Easily and quickly create professional-looking estimates.
  • Capture and log expenses with ease.
  • Profit and Loss, Accounts Aging, Sales tax and balance sheet reports.
  • Options to grant permissions to members in your team to handle invoicing.
  • Web based, so you’re able to access your billing from anywhere.
  • Automatic secure backups.

For more information, please visit http://www.freshbooks.com

November 28, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 111

River Woes Push Basis Lower

Basis slipped lower along the river system as many terminals north of St. Louis face the possibility of barge restrictions to the gulf

Basis came under pressure along much of the Midwest river system this week as terminals north of St. Louis slowed grain buying amid looming draft restrictions on the river due to low water levels.   Basis levels for soybeans were off 4 cents on average along major river terminals this week, while corn river markets slipped half a cent for the week.

However, corn basis was higher in the upper Midwest and Northern Plains as ethanol plants pushed basis levels higher by 1.5 cents a bushel on average for the week. Further to the South, river terminals from Memphis running to the Gulf were higher thanks to a 5-cent increase in basis at the Gulf export market this week.

For soybeans, basis levels around the country average a 0.3 cent decline. Lower bids from river terminals in the Midwest helped ease competition for beans, and soybean crushing plants lowered their bids by 4.5 cents for the week.  At the Gulf, export basis climbed 5 cents a bushel.

Continue to expect ongoing threats of closures along the river to hamper basis strength.  While Gulf bids continue to be strong to encourage grain movement, there is a clear risk that the River may close or at least limit barge capacity around St Louis, MO in early December which will keep grain buyers in these areas defensive.

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