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  • The International Longshore and Warehouse Union plans to hold a caucus sometime during the week of March 30 during which 90 union delegates will decide whether to recommend a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports for consideration by the union's full membership.

  • Planting prospects, corn quality concerns, how to handle the closing of the pit trade ??? just a few of the conversations I overheard at this year's National Grain and Feed Association annual convention in San Antonio.

  • Warmer weather is allowing ice on northern portions of U.S. inland waterways to melt and break up.

  • Several shipping groups and the National Grain and Feed Association are among those voicing support for the Surface Transportation Board's proposal to require railroads to publicly file various weekly data reports pertaining to service performance. The railroads say the reports are unnecessary.


  • The grains are hanging onto gains heading into Thursday.A combination of mostly bullish factors continue to support grain prices, keeping them just into the black heading into Thursday's open outcry session. Though there's one potentially bearish factor -- strong South American soybean demand -- in play, the trade's anticipation of friendly USDA Prospective Planting and Grain Stocks data next Tuesday has traders keeping things on the positive side heading toward the weekend."Corn continues to find support with thoughts of a friendly report coming at us next week. Continued strong demand out of South America kept soybeans under pressure," says Kluis Commodities market analyst Cory Bratland. "With the bull spreads working in all three grains, we will likely see the markets supported on any pullbacks. I am watching to see if we have an uptick in export sales this week now that the US dollar has dropped 4-5% from its highs."Check out the latest grain prices Brazil's crop areas may be trimmed in the next year.Despite the fact the demand for soybeans from South America may be "keeping a lid on" soybean futures in the U.S., there's new news from Brazil that shows that lid may not stay on too tight in the medium to long term. correspondent in Brazil Luis Vieira reported this week that, at a trade show in Rio Grande do Sul, the big talk has been that as part of the nation's overall economic contraction expected in the next few months, crop acres may actually be pared down, or simply held back from expansion, even in Mato Grosso, the state where soybean acres have been growing without pause for the last "several years," Vieira writes. And, a lot depends on the value of the U.S. Dollar and Brazilian currency, the Real; the nation doesn't want to watch the Real explode in value like the U.S. Dollar has in the last year, as that would sharpen the GDP contraction that's already underway in Brazil. "At a traditional farm show recently in Rio Grande do Sul, Agriculture and Livestock minister Kátia Abreu confirmed a consequence of the crisis that many Brazilian farmers had expected. Average farm business interest rates will increase from 6.5% to 8.5% starting with the contracts signed by next June," Vieira writes this week. "This led several analysts to predict that corn and soybean surfaces will not grow in the next season, even in Mato Grosso. Brazil's top soybean producing state would not have an area expansion of grains for the first time in several years."See more on this developing storyChat the turn of events in Marketing Talk The homestretch for federal crop insurance program selections is here.If you haven't decided which crop insurance program -- PLC or ARC -- is right for your farm, it's crunch time, with the deadline rolling around next Tuesday. A lot's been said about the 2 programs, namely in how selecting one over the other is a bellwether for your marketing outlook in the coming months and years. But, agriculture's cyclical, and farmers have seen boom-bust cycles like the one we're in now. So, what will happen once grain market prices rebound? An historical context can help, one economist says. "Prices over that period make a difference because if the season-average price remains below the reference price, the PLC will likely provide farmers with higher government payments than ARC over the tenure of the farm bill. If prices remain above the reference price, PLC will provide farmers with nothing while those who elect ARC will receive payments when the revenue per acre at the county level declines below the five-year Olympic average. If the revenue per acre increases, they get nothing," says University of Tennessee farm policy expert and economist Daryll Ray. "We think it is instructive to look back at the three previous periods that farmers have seen as golden eras in agriculture: World War I, World War II, and the export-led boom of the 1970s, to see what lessons they might offer about subsequent-year price levels." So, what lessons does history hold and how might it influence your decisions this spring?How Did Prices Fare Following Other Golden Eras in Agriculture?

  • There is an old saying: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Today, current and ongoing research seeks to better identify the right balance between application of nutrients -- namely nitrogen -- to row-crop fields in an effort to ultimately end the trend of farmers resorting to those applications whether needed or not.Nutrient application research isn't new. Farm groups, universities, and companies have been researching nitrogen use and uptake by all crops for decades. While that research has yielded frequent nutrient recommendations, they're taken as just that -- recommendations many farmers may use as a baseline, but from which they ultimately diverge in the nutrients they apply to their fields. The logic is sound: Apply more nitrogen and raise a bigger, more vigorous crop. Often, that's not the case, though. Farmers should take a second look at what they're applying -- even if it's based on pretty precise measurements in the field -- and reconsider how much they're putting down.How much N you put down depends first on your attitude, researchers say. Think you're headed for a bin-buster? You're likely to apply more nitrogen, says Keri L. Jacobs, Iowa State University ag economist. Some of that has to do with the inherent optimism that comes with being a farmer, she says, though some of it can come back to bite you."Studies by psychologists and behavioral economists almost invariably find that people are overconfident. A form of overconfidence relevant to agricultural production is unrealistic optimism -- the belief that really good outcomes will occur despite objective evidence to the contrary. Our survey does not indicate overconfidence is prevalent among the central Iowa farmers surveyed," Jacobs says. "However, we do find some evidence of unrealistic optimism regarding yield expectations among a subset of the farmers. A roughly equal-size group of respondents is pessimistic about yield expectations, that is, they expect lower yields than those estimated by independent data sources. On average, the farmers we surveyed expect to harvest only slightly more bushels per acre than is predicted by historical data."Next, it matters how much you think that nitrogen is worth to your crop. Jacobs says many farmers she and her colleagues at ISU's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development surveyed recently say they don't lack in confidence when it comes to the benefit of nitrogen in their fields."Preliminary analysis suggests that farmers overstate the impact nitrogen has on corn yields. Our survey asked farmers their perceptions about the yield response to added nitrogen on the fields that they managed, and the results show farmers believe that the decline in expected yield due to a nitrogen reduction is generally larger than the rise in expected yield due to a similar increase in nitrogen applied," Jacobs says. "A crucial question we seek to answer is, do farmers’ subjective beliefs about nitrogen-corn yield relationships match the objective data or the agronomic models and advice that they receive? Our preliminary findings suggest the answer to this question is no. For approximately 30% of the farmers in our survey, the expected incremental increase in yield from an increase in nitrogen applied exceeds the objective estimate that was attained from the research farm data."What about soybeans?You can get higher soybean yields from applying supplemental nitrogen. How much higher and whether those increases happen with any regularity are huge question marks and typically make applying extra N a wash at best and, at worst, a total waste of money when soybeans are expected to raise average yields, says University of Illinois Extension agronomist and corn expert Emerson Nafziger. His most recent research shows a range of nitrogen applied in different formats does influence yield, but in nowhere near the predictable manner to yield a recommendation."Yields ranged from 39 to 87 bushels per acre, with an average of 66. We saw significant (statistically likely to have been due to treatment, not just to chance) yield increases in two of the 33 trials, both about 6 bushels above the untreated check, and a significant decrease (of a little less than 5 bushels) in one trial. The average response to using N fertilizer over all 33 trials was .5 bushel (increase) per acre. There was no tendency for the response to be higher in higher-yielding trial; the 10 lowest-yielding sites showed an average response of about 1 bushel while the 10 highest-yielding sites showed an average response of only .25 bushel," Nafziger says of the most recent five years of soybean nutrient research trials. "These results show that adding N fertilizer can increase soybean yield, but also that a consistent yield increase is not likely. Getting a yield increase high enough to pay for the practice is also unlikely. The cost of the fertilizer (100 pounds of urea is about $23 at the current price of about $460 per ton) plus application means that yields need to increase by 3 to 4 bushels per acre just to break even. Ignoring statistical significance, we saw a yield increase of 3 bushels or more in five of the 33 trials and of 4 bushels or more only three times."In circumstances when higher soybean yields are expected, nitrogen efficacy does increase, though there remain questions as to whether -- in situations where yields as high as 90 bushels per acre are expected -- applying additional N is worth it."The inconsistency of N response in scientific studies is likely because most soybean yields were restricted to below 60 bushels per acre by diseases, nematodes, drought stress, or other factors. It is only when these and other production limitations are removed that N becomes yield limiting. As higher soybean yields become more common due to improvements in genetics and management practices, N additions may be needed to maximize potential yields. Nitrogen needs that are unmet by the combination of N mineralization by the soil and N fixation by the plant can be supplied by other sources such as N fertilizer or manure. These supplemental N needs to meet crop demands are shown below for various soybean yield levels," says John P. Schmidt, DuPont Pioneer research scientist. "Even when soybean needs for supplemental N have been identified, a critical question remains - will N additions be cost-effective? That question will only be answered over time with broad-based research studies and side-by-side comparisons in growers' fields. With that in mind, the best approach to determine if supplemental N is required for your soybean field may be to simply try a low rate of N in alternate strips on a few acres. If a cost-effective yield increase is observed with 20 to 30 pounds of N per acre, then consider testing an even higher rate. With the availability of precision farming technologies, many growers can directly evaluate the merits of an N fertilizer application to soybean on a field-by-field basis. Knowledge of which soybean fields respond to additional N fertilizer is valuable information for future soybean crops."

  • Outside factors support grains heading into midweek trading.Crude oil and the U.S. dollar are showing signs of life as the midweek point rolls around today, with both factors showing the potential to continue providing support for grain prices, even if it simply means they'll help lessen the selling pressure that could send prices lower, says Bob Linneman, market analyst with Kluis Commodities. Though the oil market's still trading within its previous range, the dollar is close to falling to levels where it hasn't been in almost a year, and that's good news for the grain bulls as the grains head into Wednesday's open outcry session mixed."Crude has not been able to muster a convincing move through the 50-day average the past two times it has tried. Maybe the third attempt will finally get the job done. Corn was able to shake off the selling pressure in soybeans and wheat on Tuesday and close 3 cents higher. That might not seem like much, but the pattern of higher highs and higher lows continues. I think corn will find support on pullbacks," Linneman says. "The U.S. dollar has fallen 4% from the high scored just 12 days ago.  Although this feels like a major correction, the key level to watch is 95.32: If the dollar closes below that level at the end of the month, it would be the first lower close on the monthly chart since June 2014."Check the latest grain pricesThe pre-USDA report estimates are streaming in.There may be a record number of soybean acres planted this year, as many as 87 million acres. That same number could be planted to corn, though estimates do range higher for that crop. The corn projections heading into next week's annual USDA Prospective Plantings report are all lower than last year, while more soybeans are expected. However, farmers say those numbers may not reach fruition, especially for soybeans considering the continued strong corn demand. And what about crops like sorghum robbing corn acres in regions like the Plains?"I'll bet in the Plains many acres of corn will be lost to milo. Locally, we just had another small basis adjustment today in the positive direction. Milo slowly keeps pulling away from corn. Buzz at the local co-op was that a few circles along the irrigation/dryland line will be producing dryland milo in 2015 instead of irrigated corn. Can't say as I blame them," says one Marketing Talk adviser. Adds another: "We had one of the biggest corn crops this area has seen in a while, and buyers are looking for corn and basis is positive, beans even more so. Part of it is farmers holding, part of it is the crop wasn't as big as advertised and demand is very, very healthy at these levels." What do you think? Jump in and add your thoughts Watch for slowing soil warmup in the Midwest.It seems like temperatures went from -10°F. to 50°F. in a matter of hours in parts of the Corn Belt, and that quick weather shift has already spawned some issues for farmers as soils continue to warm and spring planting looms. Now, a damp pattern looks to move into the region after a relatively dry start to the spring thaw. That means spring planting may face a slow start if things don't continue to warm up, one weather expert says this morning. Meanwhile, there's moisture but warmer temps down South, and that's helping the corn and soybean crops already in the ground get off to a better start. "Showers should now shift into the southern and eastern Midwest over the next few days, which will stall fieldwork there and also increase wetness concerns again. Cold temperatures across the Midwest through the weekend will continue to slow the warmup of soil temperatures. Showers are expected across the Delta on Thursday, which will stall fieldwork briefly, but conditions should improve there by the weekend," says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. "The mild conditions will improve soil temperatures and will favor germination of corn and soybeans. The active showers in the Southeast will continue to slow late planting of corn and soybeans, while drier weather in the northern Delta and western Midwest will favor planting."See more of the latest weather commentary

  • The federal government is taking steps to make sure a larger share of the overall amount of money devoted to farm payments actually winds up in farmers' hands. On Tuesday, USDA officials announced they're proposing a rule that would limit payments to those "not actively engaged in farm management," something essentially mandated by the 2014 farm bill in which Congress "gave USDA the authority to address this loophole for joint ventures and general partnerships while exempting family farm operations from being impacted by the new rule USDA ultimately implements," according to a government report."We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help. So we've taken the steps to do that, to the extent that the Farm Bill allows," USDA secretary Tom Vilsack says in a USDA report. "The Farm Bill gave USDA the authority to limit farm program payments to individuals who are not actively engaged in the management of the farming operation on nonfamily farms. This helps close a loophole that has been taken advantage of by some larger joint ventures and general partnerships."The "farm manager" loophole has existed for decades, and in 1987, USDA classified farm managers as those who didn't make measurable "contributions to critical farm management decisions" but who could receive farm program payments. Now, the agency has proposed a rule to prevent that same group from receiving payments. And this time around, the rules are much clearer and more specific."The proposed rule seeks to close this loophole to the extent possible within the guidelines required by the 2014 Farm Bill. Under the proposed rule, nonfamily joint ventures and general partnerships must document that their managers are making significant contributions to the farming operation, defined as 500 hours of substantial management work per year, or 25% of the critical management time necessary for the success of the farming operation," according to a USDA report. "Many operations will be limited to only one manager who can receive a safety-net payment. Operators that can demonstrate they are large and complex could be allowed payments for up to three managers only if they can show all three are actively and substantially engaged in farm operations."Federal officials are careful to point out the new rule won't affect family or otherwise active farmers and won't change any other mandates on farm ownership or management in the farm bill."The changes specified in the rule would apply to payment eligibility for 2016 and subsequent crop years for Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Programs, loan deficiency payments, and marketing loan gains realized via the Marketing Assistance Loan program," according to a USDA report. "As mandated by Congress, family farms will not be impacted. There will also be no change to existing rules for contributions to land, capital, equipment, or labor. Only nonfamily farm general partnerships or joint ventures comprised of more than one member will be impacted by this proposed rule."See more on USDA's new 'Actively Engaged' rule