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  • Some points on the grain shipping system are less frozen than they were last year; some are not. The first barge has moved through Lock and Dam 2, but Duluth has yet to see its first ocean-going vessel.

  • Some points on the grain shipping system are less frozen than they were last year; some are not. The first barge has moved through Lock and Dam 2, but Duluth has yet to see its first ocean-going vessel.

  • 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.


  • It's USDA report day!Corn futures are unchanged and soybeans and wheat are trading lower in the overnight session preceding today's open outcry session and, more importantly, this morning's big USDA reports, annual Prospective Plantings and quarterly Grain Stocks. Monday's trade saw wheat futures shoot higher, leading the way for higher corn and soybean prices, too. What will today's reports mean for prices? The Prospective Plantings report is expected to show a record soybean crop size for this year, at or near corn acreage. But, there is another wildcard: Will sorghum -- a crop that's seeing renewed interest in areas considered fringe to typical corn and soybean territory -- rob acres from either row crop? And, don't let the plantings report take all your attention; the grain stocks report could boost market prices if they're tight. Ultimately, watch Mother Nature for market direction shortly after the reports are released at 11:00 AM Central Time this morning, analysts say."I am watching the USDA Crop reports today and where prices closed. I expect some early volatility. Then watch to see if corn and soybeans can make new higher highs after 1:00 today or lower lows after 1:00 today," says Kluis Commodities grain broker and market analyst Al Kluis. "Making new highs after 1:00 PM is a bullish signal, while lower lows after 1:00 PM today is a negative signal."USDA to Show Record Soybean Plantings?Previewing the big reports So, what's going to make you more money this year? Expectations heading into today's report, for quite some time, have been that soybean acres would grow, making a higher soybean acreage number no surprise to the trade. But, what will make you more money this year? It's something of a mixed bag; from about central Iowa north, corn still holds more profitability promise. The same is true for much of Illinois. But, looking to other areas, namely about all of Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and much of Nebraska and Kansas, soybeans look to yield higher returns, according to data released Monday. So, the shift away from corn and toward more soybeans could be more of a regional affair, one economist says."Note that much of the Corn Belt has higher expected corn returns than soybean returns. Southern Minnesota, northern and central Iowa, and northern and central Illinois have higher expected corn returns. Also, corn is expected to have higher returns than soybeans in the Mississippi Delta," says University of Illinois Extension economist Gary Schnitkey. "Given that corn is expected to have higher returns in these areas, one would not expect large shifts from corn to soybeans in these areas. Shifts to soybeans likely are to occur outside the central Corn Belt and the Mississippi Delta."More Soybean Acres? What Will Make You More Money This Year?Plains wheat is hurting.It's been a growing topic this spring, and it looks like Mother Nature is confirming a lot of the suspicions from earlier this spring, as field reports stream in showing the winter wheat crop in the Plains is in increasingly rough shape because of a continued lack of moisture. correspondent in Kansas, Bill Spiegel, has toured many of that state's wheat fields this week, and that's revealed a lot of challenges to the crop, from drought to pest problems like aphids and army cutworms. The dryness is the main threat; some parts of Kansas have struggled to get less than half an inch of rain in March, and the crop stress is mounting. USDA data show a 2% fall in the amount of that state's crop rated in good or excellent condition in the last week alone. But wheat specialists remain optimistic that with rainfall soon, the crop will be okay. "The wheat is average to above average prospects. But we need rain. We're always talking about needing rain," one specialist told Spiegel.See more on this week's wheat tour

  • Today is the calm before the storm in the grains Monday.Tomorrow is the biggest USDA report day of the year with the release of the annual Prospective Plantings and quarterly Grain Stocks reports. Heading into those reports, it looks like the grains will trade in choppy, light volume until the reports hit tomorrow morning. The grains are mixed to slightly higher after mixed prices most of the overnight session, and that looks to be the primary tone Monday, says Kluis Commodities market analyst and grain broker Al Kluis. Then, after any potential fireworks come and go Tuesday and just after, planting weather will again become the main driver for prices."The grain markets will focus on weather by later this week after we have the USDA Prospective Planting reports factored in. The weather pattern continues to project wet conditions in the Delta and dry conditions in the western Corn Belt," Kluis says. "I am watching the USDA Crop Progress report today to see how far behind we are in corn planting in the Southern states."See the latest trade estimates for tomorrow's reports Check the latest grain prices The Plains keep getting drier.Showers criss-crossed the Midwest over the weekend and temperatures have been on the cool side, though they're expected to warm this week as we say goodbye to March and usher in April, the month that should see a lot of planters rolling. The same isn't exactly true in the Plains, though; some showers fell in the northern Plains over the weekend, but it continues to stay awfully dry in wheat country as that crop continues its postdormancy spring development. Though some showers are expected in parts of the southern Corn Belt and mid-South, that's about the extent of it, as models show the Plains are likely to stay dry through this week."The dry weather allowed dryness to persist across the northern and central Plains and much of the northern and western Midwest. The persistent dryness is becoming an increasing concern for the winter wheat crop in the central Plains, especially in South Dakota, Nebraska, and central Kansas. With no significant rainfall forecast in these areas over the next 10 days, little improvement is expected," says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Kyle Tapley. "Above-normal temperatures in these areas over the next 10 days will also accelerate growth of the wheat crop, which will increase moisture needs. Rains this week will primarily favor the southern Midwest and far northern Delta, which will increase wetness some and stall any early planting of corn."See more: Dryness Hitting Plains Wheat HardGet more on your latest weather Hot Topic: Cooperative consolidation and effects on service.A farmer says two co-ops in his area are looking at consolidating and merging their 40-plus combined sites. It's a hot topic in Farm Business Talk; some farmers say it's a bad sign for service for smaller farmers, while others say it's just a move by both companies to streamline and "trim the fat" with grain farm margins continuing to be pressured by lower grain prices. How will the merger affect the area's farmers after the downturn reverses? "I honestly don't know which way to vote. I don't like things getting bigger, but that seems to be the way of the world. If they need to get bigger to 'better serve me,' maybe I should vote yes. However, if the 'golden boys' at the elite sites get preferential treatment and 'non-performing sites' get closed or starved out in favor of upgrades at the elite sites, then maybe vote no," says one Farm Business Talk adviser. "Elevator systems that have 20 or 40 bin sites might have only one site handling the feed and fuel, which creates a heck of a territory for the fuel and feed trucks. It's efficient when it's working, but if the fuel man is in the hospital or if one of the feed truck's transmissions is out, it can get challenging."On the other side of the coin, says another Farm Business Talk adviser: "Same economics apply to co-ops as to farms. There is an ever-growing need to keep the trade numbers up. And sometimes combining is needed just to hold the numbers steady. Every time a farm entity retires and gets absorbed into the landscape, the co-op loses a customer. And large farms bypass the middleman."What do you think? Join this chat and see what other farmers are saying

  • If you're stressing to meet next week's deadline for selecting the federal crop insurance program that's right for your farm, you have another week to breathe.Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Friday that USDA is extending the deadline for reallocating base acres and selecting PLC or ARC for your farm by a week. The deadline is now Tuesday, April 7. "This is an important decision for producers because these programs help farmers and ranchers protect their operations from unexpected changes in the marketplace," Vilsack said Friday, according to a USDA report. "Nearly 98% of owners have already updated their yield and base acres, and 90% of producers have enrolled in ARC or PLC. These numbers are strong, and continue to rise. This additional week will give producers a little more time to have those final conversations, review their data, visit their local Farm Service Agency offices, and make their decisions."Friday's USDA report emphasizes that without selecting between the two programs, federal crop insurance for the 2014 crop year won't be made, and farmers will be defaulted to the PLC program automatically through 2018."If no changes are made to yield history or base acres by the deadline, the farm's current yield and base acres will be used. If a program choice of ARC or PLC is not made, there will be no 2014 crop year payments for the farm, and the farm will default to PLC coverage for the 2015 through 2018 crop years," according to USDA's Friday report. "Producers who have an appointment at their local FSA offices scheduled by April 7 will be able to make an election between ARC and PLC, even if their actual appointment is after April 7."

  • With crop prices continuing to stay at or below profitable levels, a lot of farmers are talking about the related markets and why prices for things like farmland haven't fallen in lockstep with the grains. Although there are some market dynamics that dictate things like land (that follow longer-term fundamental trends, for example) won't shadow the grain markets, there is speculation that market sectors like these are more decoupled than ever. Chat the latest land sales in your area and see what other farmers are sayingIf you're selling land, this is good news. If you're trying to build your acreage base, though, $3.50 corn and $9 soybeans don't allow for many high-dollar bids. Will it continue? correspondent Bill Spiegel is tracking the land market with his Successful Land Sale series, featuring hot auctions around farm country. Have a local land auction that's getting a lot of attention in your neck of the woods? Comment below and let us know!The latest land analysisAre Farmland Cash Rents Going to Fall or Not?Farmers Holding on to More Acres -- FedAre You Buying or Selling Farmland?Worst Investment Out There? Farmland, Investor SaysThe latest Successful Land Sale features