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With little chance of an early spring, use this time to sit in your office and brush up on these core risk management strategies.

Naomi Blohm, senior market adviser

February 20, 2020

5 Min Read

While visiting with producers at winter farm meetings one common theme surfaced: producers want to do better with their grain marketing.

With snow still on the ground, and little chance of an early spring, use this time to sit in your office and brush up on your grain marketing skills! The past decade of volatile, lackluster markets reminds us to take advantage of cash marketing strategies when prices are opportunistic. Having a plan ready now will allow you to pull the trigger on cash sales at appropriate times in 2020. 

It’s also a good time to review the various futures and options strategies you can use to protect unpriced bushels should prices fall lower. In the day and age where one “tweet” can move a futures market limit up or limit down, you have to be on your game and ready to take advantage of marketing opportunities. Looking for a place to start this refreshment process?  Look no further:

Ways to lock in cash sales

While there is more than one way to lock in a cash sale, let’s keep it simple and focus on the two most popular methods. Let's first look at forward contracting. This is a contract between you and a physical buyer of your grain; the elevator, ethanol plant or processing plant. The forward contract specifies price, time, quantity, and date of delivery. Once you agree to this contract with the buyer you know exactly where, when, quantity, and the final price received of the grain you are responsible for delivering to the buyer. 

The potential negative is the inability to benefit from higher prices, should prices increase after you have entered into the agreement.

Another way to sell grain with a commitment to deliver and not lock in basis (the difference between the cash prices and the price in Chicago on the Board) is called hedge-to-arrive. Hedge-to-arrive contracts require a delivery period on a specified quantity of bushels. The futures price is locked in and known, yet this contract leaves the potential for basis improvement in the months ahead.

If your elevator offers hedge-to-arrive contracts, make sure you understand the cost (hidden fees) as well as ramifications if delivery cannot be made.

Ways to protect price ‘on paper’

Sometimes, you may not be comfortable making cash sales, especially if the crop growing in your field appears to be in disarray.

In lieu of cash grain contracts, you can sell futures or use options with a commodity brokerage firm. To do this, you need to open an account, and find a broker that you trust to teach you the ins and outs of different marketing tools, and how to properly use them.

When looking at protecting prices, and giving yourself a price floor, if you do not have a big risk tolerance, then the tool you want to use is “buying a put option.”  You pay a one-time premium and commission for the put (no margin calls). If you want to establish a price floor and leave the topside open for cash price appreciation, then buying a put is a great tool to use.

Another strategy is a fence. A fence is a strategy that “fences in a range of prices.” A short fence is where you buy a put and sell an out-of-the-money call. The objective is to reduce the cost of the put with premium collected from the sold call. The sold call is a marginable position, so you will need quick access to cash in order to meet potential margin calls if futures prices move higher (but keep in mind, if the futures price is rallying, likely your cash price is moving higher as well, and you benefit as the cash price on your grain increases).

Lastly, a bear put spread is the purchase of a put combined with selling an out-of-the-money put in the same contract month. While selling a put can help reduce the cost of the long put, it does cap your ability to gain on the position if the futures prices drop.

As a producer, you should question if you really want to cap your long put option value if prices are weak. Yet, if you believe the market can go down only to a specific level, then selling an out-of-the-money put option may be advisable.

If you have a bigger risk tolerance, then you might want to consider selling futures. The potential negative is that you will be required to meet margin calls, which can grow dramatically if the futures price rallies.  Unlike a hedge-to-arrive contract where the grain elevators meet the margin requirement (behind the scenes on your behalf), the risk shifts to you, and you will need to have cash flow readily available to finance your account.

Whatever your strategy, make sure it works for you. Understand it and be comfortable with it. Preparation is key to marketing. By pre-planning and being prepared, you'll be many steps ahead of most. As a producer, you must be aware of the tools you can use to shift risk. Don’t bury your head in the sand.

Doing nothing is perhaps the riskiest marketing decision of all.

Reach Naomi Blohm: 800-334-9779 and [email protected]

Disclaimer: The data contained herein is believed to be drawn from reliable sources but cannot be guaranteed. Individuals acting on this information are responsible for their own actions. Commodity trading may not be suitable for all recipients of this report. Futures and options trading involve significant risk of loss and may not be suitable for everyone. Therefore, carefully consider whether such trading is suitable for you in light of your financial condition. No representation is being made that scenario planning, strategy or discipline will guarantee success or profits. Any decisions you may make to buy, sell or hold a futures or options position on such research are entirely your own and not in any way deemed to be endorsed by or attributed to Total Farm Marketing. Total Farm Marketing and TFM refer to Stewart-Peterson Group Inc., Stewart-Peterson Inc., and SP Risk Services LLC. Stewart-Peterson Group Inc. is registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as an introducing broker and is a member of National Futures Association. SP Risk Services, LLC is an insurance agency and an equal opportunity provider. Stewart-Peterson Inc. is a publishing company. A customer may have relationships with all three companies. SP Risk Services LLC and Stewart-Peterson Inc. are wholly owned by Stewart-Peterson Group Inc. unless otherwise noted, services referenced are services of Stewart-Peterson Group Inc. Presented for solicitation

About the Author(s)

Naomi Blohm

senior market adviser, Total Farm Marketing by Stewart Peterson

Naomi specializes at helping farmers understand how to manage cash marketing needs and understand the importance of managing basis, delivery point considerations, cash flow needs and storage capacity. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Agriculture Business at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville. She has a Master of Science in Adult Education with an emphasis in Ag Economics from the UW-Platteville and a Master Certificate in Global Education, from the UW-Oshkosh.

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