December 06, 2012 | Tech Talk | Jackie Roembke | Views: 193

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: 153

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.

November 20, 2012 | From the Field | Jackie Roembke | Views: 163

Biological Manufacturing?

Keeping tabs on the practices of today’s most progressive commercial producers

Last June at the IDEAg Interconnectivity Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Michael Boehlje, a well-known and well-respected ag economist from Purdue University. Dr. Boehlje, while well aware of today’s production agriculture, also looks into the future, focusing his work on strategic planning and thinking, particularly given the dynamic (turbulent?) business climate we all live and work in today.

This month, I attended the Equipment Manufacturers Conference (EMC) in San Diego, CA, pulled together by the American Feed Industry Association. This group (which includes many of my customers — those who advertise to support Feed & Grain’s media properties) represents the interests of equipment manufacturers who are AFIA members. They track regulatory issues, are particularly involved in all-important safety aspects surrounding equipment and its use and maintenance, but also must consider the future needs of their customers — those of you working in the feed, grain, pet food and ingredient side of the business.

I’ve attended many of the EMC meetings and always have been impressed with their focus on the future. And, in particular, the demands that will be placed on the grain and feed industry in the years ahead. 

This ties in quite well with one of Dr. Boehlje’s discussion points: recognizing the management practices of today’s most progressive commercial producers. One of the main elements of this presentation was that top producers are recognizing that they don’t farm. Instead, they realize that they are part of a biological manufacturing system. They have inputs, produce a product and must be involved (in today’s world) in seeing that product all the way through the food chain, right to the dinner table. 

So what do these forward-thinking, progressive agribusinesses do? Though Dr. Boehlje had a more extensive list, these stood out at me:

  • Adapt quickly to new technologies that either lower costs or increase value
  • Develop alliances with partners — learning from the partners and looking at ways to help grow their businesses
  • Use automation and information technology to improve cost-effectiveness of management and productivity
  • Focus on quality of product and consistency of production processes
  • Recognize and emphasize buyer expectations in the products and production practices they choose to use. 

Having worked with so many of the EMC members over the years, and meeting and talking with so many grain elevator operators and feed mill managers during that same time, I had to start wondering about what each group is doing to support each other and contribute to mutual success — as part of a biological manufacturing system.

So, if the five points above highlight what your most progressive customers or potential customers are doing, what are you putting in place in your business to better meet their needs?  And what are you doing to establish some of these same business practices into your operation? Adapt quickly, leverage new technologies, recognize that you must work in partnership with your producers and with your buyers... these are key points. 

In talking with so many equipment manufacturers, millwrights and design/build firms, I wonder about the same issue: Are these businesses partnering with feed, grain, flour, pet food, biofuel and other businesses, focusing on mutual success.

I’d certainly like to think so. But Dr. Boehlje, in painting the picture of our industry as a complex biological manufacturing system, made me think about the future.  And not just about you — but about Feed & Grain’s role as an information hub in this vital industry.

Let me know what you think! 

November 19, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 146

Spike in Gulf Lifts Cash Basis

National corn and soybean basis showed strong gains this week on account of stronger Gulf bids

In the last week we observed a firm increase in national corn and soybeans basis in the cash market. On average across the nation we watched spot corn basis rise 2 cents, while beans added nearly 3 cents.

The river accounted for large basis increases this week with corn increasing on average 10 ½ cents and soybeans adding another 8 ¾ cents. The gulf bid moved sharply higher this week driven by demand for corn and soybeans delivered before any restrictions can be placed on barges. The continued dryness in the Midwest is still impacting the Mississippi river and if rain is not received within the next few weeks, there is a good chance we may see restrictions placed on the tow size and drafts of barges between St. Louis and Cairo, IL.  Some anticipate restrictions as soon as December 10th.

Ethanol plants improved their basis for corn by 1 ¾ however, the river continues is rapidly approach in terms of basis competitiveness.  When comparing the four year average basis for both river terminals and ethanol facilities, we observe that river terminals average basis crosses over average ethanol basis around November 9th. Due to the lackluster export demand this year and in spite of the early harvest we are observing average river basis becoming more competitive than ethanol a week later than normal. I would expect this to have an impact on the EIA ethanol production numbers in the weeks to come.  

Basis also improved strongly throughout domestic soybean plants with average gains by 6 ¾ cents. Despite the bearish November USDA Supply and Demand report, which boosted soybean production and ending stocks higher than the market expected, we still see strong demand for soybeans both domestically and abroad. This week NOPA crush numbers were reported at 153.5 million bushels which beat even the highest analyst expectations and export sales bookings continue to run well ahead of the pace needed to meet the USDA’s expectations. With the decline in soybean prices, I expect crushing plants to continue reacting quickly and competitively to any basis increases along the river.    

November 09, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 143

Soy Basis Heats Up on Export Driven Demand

Soybean basis up 3 points, corn basis stall due to weak export demand

Soybean basis was up 3 cents for the week as strong export business continues to lift interior basis levels.  Robust business to China and others has helped fuel cash movement to Gulf ports. Year-to-date export shipments for soybeans are 57% higher than this time last year, and up 44% compared to the 5-year average pace of shipments at this time of year.

At the Gulf, soybean basis bids were up 4 cents for the week, but many river markets got an added lift as barge rates backed off from their recent rally. For the week, river terminals across the U.S. posted an average 10-cent gain in basis levels. There were, however, areas of weakness in the East Coast as harvest continues in the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic. Also, Iowa had key soybean plants also backing off on basis which caused some weakness in Eastern Iowa.

For corn, the lack of export business has kept basis levels tied to domestic user needs. This week New Energy Corp ethanol in Northern Indiana reported that it would layoff 40 employees and idle production until economic conditions improve. With high corn prices and relatively weak ethanol, margin levels for ethanol plants continue to be slim, posting a 60% loss compared to this time last year.

Across the U.S., average corn basis levels posted a modest half-cent increase. However, ethanol plants backed off their basis by a half-cent over the past week. River markets and Gulf export bids were higher this week, suggesting export business may begin picking up. Indeed, a sale of 500,000 MT to Japan was announced this morning, a nice change from recent weeks of dismal corn business.

November 05, 2012 | From the Field | Jackie Roembke | Views: 168

Save Time and Improve Value?

Digital technology gives us the opportunity to help you save time

I’ll say it right up front: If we lose your attention — we’re toast. 

No, I don’t think that’s likely, particularly since Feed & Grain has spent more than 50 years working to keep your attention, but if we don’t worry about losing you, then we’re not doing our job. And our job is to deliver information you need, want and value. That’s how we earn your attention.

In today’s digital world, earning your attention becomes more and more complex — in a good way. Digital technology gives us the opportunity to help you save time and help us provide more value. We can target to you the information you need, delivered consistently or readily accessible. Less clutter and more value.

There are some technologies that help us do this; for example, we know what articles are most read, what products are most searched and other key areas of activity on our website and with our e-newsletter. That’s important, but we still want to hear from you.  Which is why I am asking you to do us a favor: Help us continue to learn more about your information needs and how to meet them.

Click here to go to directly our registration page. Please provide your information, sign up for the e-newsletters and email notifications that you’d like to receive, and tell us more about your job, your responsibilities and your information needs.

With all of the options you have for finding information, we want to make sure Feed & Grain stays at the top of your list. We appreciate your help in doing so!  If I am missing something or if you have questions for me, please send me an email: arlette.sambs@feedandgrain.com. 

Thank you for investing your time. We will continue working to help you save time and find more value with the content we deliver to you. 

November 05, 2012 | Tech Talk | Jackie Roembke | Views: 199

Square Up For Easy, In-the-field Payments

Swipe credit cards on your smartphone

My son is in Cub Scouts and loves to take part in the annual popcorn sales fund raising program.  He has always done well but I felt could have done better if we had a way to accept credit cards, so this year we down loaded the Square Credit Card App on my iPhone and improved his sales by 20% which is roughly the amount of revenue we brought in by credit cards. 

Square is an amazing service that works with your mobile phone, you simply down load the free app onto your phone, signup, and plug in the free card reader. There is a 2.75% fee when you do a transaction, so for every $100 you bring in there is a $2.75 fee. This is very low fee compared to most traditional credit card processing companies. For companies that have large transactions there is a fixed fee program which is $275/month for unlimited usage.

Here is how I envision an ag Business using the Square technology: Imagine your employee going out to the field to deliver some lubricants at harvest time, the farmer hands the employee the credit card, who swipes it through the reader plugged into his phone, an amount is entered along with any optional details, the farmer signs the phone screen for confirmation and a receipt of the transaction is forwarded via email or text. The funds are then deposited from Square to the ag businesses local bank account. 

If you let your imagination go you can come up with many ideas of how this type of technology may be used by ag businesses in the future.  Someday your employees may walk around with a phone capable of taking payments while you monitor the sales in real time via your office computer. You may even be able to see that a salesperson has just received a payment at the end of a field via Google Maps.

To learn more visit www.squareup.com

November 02, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 149

Barge Rates Decline, Spurring Basis at River Terminals

Sharp decline in barge rates had a pronounced impact on soybean basis, while corn benefited only slightly

Finally, after two weeks of barge rate increases, we observed a sharp decline across the river system. The St. Louis rate declined 19% last week giving soybean basis along the river space to improve 11 ¼ cents between Oct. 25th and Oct.  31st. Movement of soybeans through Mississippi river Lock 27 tapered off sharply, declining from a whopping 414 thousand tons (64% above the three year average) to only 147 thousand tons by Oct. 27th. However, despite the minor lull in Soybean movement down the river, the Gulf bid should continue pulling soybeans at an above average pace.  In the last week the soybean bid out of the Gulf increased 7 cents.

Soybean Basis throughout the Eastern US continued to see harvest pressure. For the states of NC, KY, VA, MD, DE and SC only about 47% of estimated soybean production has been harvested. Because the eastern states are in the peak of soybean harvest, we expect to see downward basis pressure in the weeks to come.

Harvest for corn is 91% complete, allowing basis to creep about a penny higher this week on average across the US. Despite cheaper transportation to the gulf, declining barge rates had little impact on corn basis at river terminals, which improved a cent over last week. Corn basis at the river is not responding to cheaper barge rates simply because export demand is very weak. Total amount of corn which has passed through Mississippi River Lock 27 is a little over half the volume we observed in 2011 and 47% of the three year average. Unfortunately, the export picture doesn’t look to improve as sales continue to come in below the pace necessary to meet the USDA’s forecast. We will continue to follow export sales for any indications of improving demand. 

October 26, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 121

Barge Rate Spike Puts Pressure on River Markets

Strong demand for soybean shipping helps boost barge rates 10-20 cents over the past week. Basis softens along the river terminals as a result.

Increases of 10 to 20 cents a bushel in barge rates the past week put significant pressure on river terminal basis.  Thanks to strong demand for soybean barging, rates have begun to move higher which pressured river basis levels, with losses of 10 to 20 cents a bushel fairly common along the river system this week.

For the week ending October 25, corn and soybean basis levels were up 1 cent a bushel on average across the country.

In the corn market, Western Cornbelt ethanol plants continue to push hard on basis to meet their needs where +40 basis levels are fairly common by key buyers. In comparison, this time of year those same plants are generally paying -20 on basis. However, other ethanol plants around the country were more moderated, leading to al ethanol plants being up only 0.8 cents for the week.  At the Gulf, basis levels were up 2 cents for the week.

For the soybean market, basis levels were also substantially lower along the river with a loss of 10-cents per bushel reported by river terminals this past week even though the Gulf was up 4 cents. Weakness continues through the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic as double-crop beans continue be harvested in full force. However, soybean crushing plants were up 3.5 cents a bushel this week and gains in the Western Cornbelt were fairly typical as harvest finishes up.

October 22, 2012 | Grain Hedge Insights | Jackie Roembke | Views: 116

After Harvest Lows Soybean Basis Rebound Remains Lackluster

Soybean basis improved in the northwest following the end of harvest, but the eastern states continue to experience depressed basis due to double crop bean harvest.

The basis lows were printed in the last week of September for both corn and soybeans on average throughout the nation. In just the last week, the national average basis for soybeans improved nearly a cent while corn basis continued climbing, up another 1 1/3 cents on the week.  Despite the steady basis improvements observed since the harvest low, soybeans has not experienced the violent snapback in basis that it enjoyed during the same period last year. In 2011 the national soybean basis average improved 14 cents in the two weeks following the harvest low. This year, soybeans have improved a lackluster 3 ½ cents during the same period.

Across the United States

The slow basis improvement seen in soybeans this year could be caused by a number of abnormal events. First, going into harvest we had exceptional backwardation in the futures market. At one point there was almost a two dollar discount for soybeans delivered in July 2013 compared to soybeans delivered this November 2012. This sort of futures market structure gives farmers incentive to sell beans directly off the combine, and probably played a role in amplifying bean sales during this year’s harvest. However, since the height of the backwardation the cash market has adjusted and now provides, on average, a 7 cent carry from spot to Nov, a 5 1/3 cent carry from Nov to Dec and a 2 cent carry from Dec to Jan.  The current cash structure should help support further spot basis improvement.  Secondly, there is a chance that the soybean basis recovery has been muted as a result of improving yield expectations during this year’s harvest. Recently, we have seen multiple private analysts increase their soybean yield forecasts, and on October 11th we saw confirmation when the USDA raised their official soybean yield forecast from 35.3 to 37.8 bushels per acre. 

Soybean basis seemed mixed across the different facility types last week with soybean plants improving their basis by 1 ½ cents, while basis along the river dropped 2 1/8th cents. The gulf remained unchanged.

The increase we observed in corn basis was supported by a one cent increase out of both ethanol plants and the gulf.   Despite the slight improvement in corn basis out of the gulf, river terminals remained unchanged as a result of slightly stronger barge rates. Since harvest lows corn has increased 3 ¾ cents, on par with the rate of improvement we observed last year during the same time period.

Harvest Analysis

We see spot soybean basis improving this week with the peak of harvest well behind us. North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota have been over 90% complete for more than a week giving reason for merchandisers to bump up the bid to start attracting more grain. The Dakotas were about 10% ahead of last year’s pace for the week of October 14th. We see weaker basis in the eastern part of the US, caused by double crop harvest pressure. Kentucky's harvested beans went from 34% to 42% last week, Missouri from 20% to 36%, and Tennessee from 24% to 33%. Harvest in these eastern states is moving along at an average pace and should continue to see basis pressure through next week.

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