Consider Use of a Basis Contract to Market Corn

Steven D. Johnson, Ph.D., Farm Management Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, shared marketing tools and tips for the 2016 crop.

Johnson_Steve_smKeep an eye on your local basis to see if you should continue to store or price some of your corn. Farmers who have unpriced corn might consider using a basis contract to market at least a portion of those bushels. An attractive basis in late December and the need for cash will be the main drivers for farmers to move some of those stored bushels. Most of the cash price movement in late fall and early winter months typically comes from better basis being offered as farmers slow grain movement. In addition, two 3-day weekends in late December increase the odds of potential “quick ship” bids to meet processor demands for additional bushels.

Seasonal futures price trends indicate corn futures prices don’t typically rally in the fall and winter months. That’s because most everything is known about the Northern Hemisphere feed grain crops by then, and that’s where nearly 85% of the world production takes place. However, most farmers will be reluctant to give up ownership of bushels at sub-$3.50 per bushel cash corn prices.

Farmers need to pay attention to the costs of ownership

Chart of storage costs, on farm vs. commerical
Cost of 2016 Corn Ownership

Compare the cost of storing corn at a commercial elevator to your own on-farm storage costs. The ISU Extension and Outreach Iowa Commodity Challenge website can show you how. It uses the following 2016 crop assumptions: cash corn is valued at $3.11 per bushel at a central Iowa elevator when about 50% of the Iowa harvest was complete. Interest is accruing on stored grain at a rate of 5% or 1.75% if the USDA marketing loan is used. On-farm storage is 1 cent per bushel per month while commercial storage is 16 cents for the first 90 days and 2.8 cents per bushel for each month thereafter. Note the cash prices (dotted line) are below the typical cost of corn ownership as of late November.

Cost of 2016 Corn Ownership

Once you store corn, imagine how much cash prices will need to improve each month to justify storage. Commercial storage could easily be 3 to 4 times more expensive per bushel than on-farm storage costs. The cash price received for commercially stored bushels will also reflect the basis offered at that commercial storage facility. If history is any indication, the likelihood of selling those cash corn bushels above the cost of storage probably means a significant futures price rally is needed (more likely in the spring months)and improvement in the basis.

How does a basis contract actually work?

Most grain merchandisers offer a marketing tool called a basis contract. A farmer delivers cash corn and eliminates storage costs and basis risks. The merchandiser buys a corn futures contract (goes long) in a deferred month on behalf of the farmer. The merchandiser will likely charge a small service fee of 1 to 2 cents per bushel subtracted when the basis contract is settled, likely in the spring.

Upon delivery of the cash bushels, a farmer can collect 70% to 80% of the corn’s value. The merchandiser holds the remaining 20% to 30% balance of the cash value to make potential margin calls should futures prices decline. Any excess funds minus the 1- to 2-cent service fee are returned to the farmer upon settling the basis contract.

Eliminating storage costs and basis risk

The farmer needs to convey to the merchandiser a date and price at which the farmer wishes to have this long futures position lifted. Consider being “long” the May 2017 or July 2017 corn futures contracts when using a basis contract to increase the chance of benefiting from a spring futures price rally.

Discuss risks and rewards with your merchandiser when you’re initiating cash sales and basis contracts. Be sure you understand the risk of being “long” futures and the flow of cash funds involved in the transaction. The farmer isn’t able to take advantage of the carry offered in the futures markets with a basis contract. However, there are several advantages a basis contract provides. Those include providing cash to help pay expenses and meet your farm operation’s cash flow needs, elimination of storage costs and basis risk, and minimizing the concern for on-farm stored corn quality.

Take the Iowa Commodity Challenge and learn new marketing skills

The website featuring the Iowa Commodity Challenge has related crop marketing information including 14 videos and a 65-page Marketing Tools Workbook.

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Iowa Commodity Challenge Helps Improve Crop Marketing Skills

Steve Johnson, ISU extension field specialist, shares details on the Iowa Commodity Challenge, a program developed with Chad Hart, ISU extension economist and Ed Kordick, Iowa Farm Bureau, offers simulation using real world prices to help explore various marketing strategies.

Steve Johnson, ISU ExtensionThe Iowa Commodity Challenge is an educational series developed by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Farm Bureau that reflects real world crop markets so users can explore how various tools work – without putting their actual money on the table.

The materials, hosted on the Ag Decision Maker website, include 14 instructional videos explaining various aspects of marketing. Three new videos – Successful Market Planning, Using Crop Contracts and Working with Your Grain Merchandiser – have been recently added.

Also included is an updated 65-page Marketing Tools Workbook and a variety of learning activities. The workbook provides the basics on marketing tools as well as setting personal marketing goals and resources participants can use on their own farm operation.

Participants can choose to participate in an online grain market simulation game to help improve marketing skills. The game includes using futures and ag options as marketing tools, and participation can also help users improve strategies to sell cash corn and soybeans.

Iowa Commodity Challenge partners“It gives players a chance to look at commodity markets and how they work over the course of several months,” said Steve Johnson, farm management specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “The simulation reflects what is going on in the real world markets so participants are able to try out marketing strategies in a setting where they can explore how these various marketing tools work without risk.”

As a part of the online grain market simulation game; participants are given 75,000 bushels of corn and 25,000 bushels of soybeans stored commercially to market before spring using March 2017 corn and soybean futures. Storage costs will accrue on bushels as if they were in the bin (six cents per bushel per month).

Crop marketing is difficult and the stakes are high. Participating in the Iowa Commodity Challenge will provide greater understanding of marketing tools available and aid in making decisions in the noisy world of crop marketing.

Ag Decision Maker (AgDM) 

An agricultural economics and business website.

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Early Harvest Basis Opportunities

Contributed by Steve Johnson, Extension Farm Management Field Specialist,sdjohns@iastate.edu.

Johnson_Steve_smWith the heat and dry conditions from late August, Iowa corn fields are maturing quickly. Farmers might want to take advantage of an unusual marketing opportunity this in September.

By harvesting some of their corn early and delivering directly in to local corn users, such as processors, livestock feeders and ethanol plants; farmers could potentially earn a premium of 50 cents per bushel of more over cash prices offered in October. That premium price is likely to disappear quickly in early October, when the 2013 fall harvest begins to pick up more momentum.

It’s really going to be a win-win situation for grain users and farmers. Corn users are looking for corn now after last year’s short crop and farmers could use this to earn premium prices and help their fall cash flow situation.

There could also be a few marketing opportunities on early-harvested soybeans. Like corn, processors and river terminals are looking to secure a local supply of soybeans after last year’s drought-reduced harvest.

Iowa farmers are fortunate because there is a strong demand for corn and soybeans in the state. That can create marketing opportunities that are not  available in all states.

A good strategy for Iowa farmers this month is to keep a very close eye on the moisture content and quality of corn in their fields during September as well as bids from local buyers. If the moisture content of the corn drops down toward 15 percent, or if there are signs of stalk rot or other problems that could trim yields, it may make sense to harvest some of the driest fields early and try to take advantage of a cash bid premium, he said. Even if the grain is still above the target moisture level of 15 percent, the premium for early delivery may more than make up for the dockage.

In years when the crop is less than ideal, there is a tendency for Iowa farmers to store corn and wait for higher bids later in the marketing year. However, those higher bids may not materialize in the upcoming marketing year because other parts of the Corn Belt have experienced better growing weather and may have more corn to market. I think it will be good to take an aggressive marketing approach this year and to look for early opportunities.

Ag Decision Maker (AgDM) 

An agricultural economics and business website.

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