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The show must go on

From grain prices to input markets, there’s a lot to talk about in my virtual farm show presentations.

After stepping down from the day-to-day grind at the beginning of 2020, I wasn’t planning on participating in this year’s Farm Progress Show or Husker Harvest Days. But when COVID-19 forced the shows to become virtual, I knew I had to be a part of this historic event.

If you haven’t already, register for the Farm Progress Virtual Experience. I’ll be speaking Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:30 CST, though you can catch my presentations on demand as well.

Spoiler alert: In this unusual year, more than ever, staying on top of fast-changing markets is crucial for your farm’s success.

Who’s got grain?

On Tuesday, I’ll discuss Who’s Got Grain? That question is front and center after a summer that featured drought in some parts of the Midwest, not to mention a devastating derecho that flatted crops from South Dakota to Ohio. USDA on Sept. 11 made the first of what I think may be significant adjustments to its corn and soybean production estimates.

Fewer bushels opens the door for higher prices at last. But you can’t sell what you don’t have, so it also raises questions about demand, especially for corn. With both the livestock and biofuel industries upended by the pandemic, U.S. corn exports may again be the swing factor in usage, and they normally depend on our share of exportable feed grain supplies.

China steps up

Of course, non-market factors are also in play. After a slow start in the first seven months of 2020, China stepped up purchases of U.S. ag products, buying soybeans aggressively and also taking more corn than usual. But with tensions between the world’s top two superpowers on the rise, will the trade detent last?

Toss in potential impacts on Argentine production from La Nina cooling of the equatorial Pacific and it means farmers should stay tuned for exciting markets. Though it’s hard to produce big rallies after summer, my models show potential for gains by both corn and soybean futures.

The rest of the story

My Wednesday talk is The Rest of the Story. The theme is one I always like to emphasize in September. Even though farmers are focused on bringing in this year’s crops, success in 2021 starts with decisions that demand attention right now. Crops produce revenue, but profits depend on expenses, too.

Though it’s not as easy as tracking grain markets, fuel, fertilizer and financial inputs need to be watched carefully. The latest policy statement from the Federal Reserve suggests “lower for longer” interest rates that may make it easier to bear higher debt loads farmers are accumulating. Historically low rates impact land prices and the value of the dollar, and perhaps inflation too.

The super-cheap cost of money is a symptom of how the pandemic caused chaos that may not be over, in a world filled with potential new black swan factors. Farmers who stood fast and stepped in to buy diesel and propane when the energy market collapsed this spring are reaping the rewards now as harvest begins. The fertilizer market also felt the impact from the global slowdown, But signs of a recovery are starting to emerge as the world gets going again. We don’t know when “normal” will return, but prices for many inputs are likely to be higher when COVID-19 is in the rear view mirror.

I’ll be around to answer your questions at this year’s presentations. Your feedback is something I always valued about going to the shows. If farmers are asking about it, I need to be writing about it. So if you have questions, please let me know.

Knorr writes from Chicago, Ill. Email him at
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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