July: The Month of Corn

July 7, 2008

The next several weeks promise to keep traders nervous and prices volatile as the corn crop goes through its most critical yield-determining development stage, pollination. 
    Any changes in the weather outlook will send shivers through the market. Monday was a case in point. A forecast for scattered, beneficial showers across 80 percent of the U.S. Corn Belt sent Chicago Board of Trade corn prices sliding the 30-cent trading limit.
    This year corn will pollinate about two weeks behind its usual pace, agronomists say, due to cool spring weather and growth-retarding heavy June rains in many areas.
    That means most corn plants will pollinate in late July — typically the hottest and driest period of the summer. A deep, mature root structure to tap groundwater is the key to good pollination and a question mark over lots of corn this year.
    “Then on the backside of the season it tends to push maturity a little closer to a killing fall frost,” said Bob Nielsen, extension agronomist at Purdue University in Indiana.
    The U.S. Agriculture Department reported late Monday that only 6 percent of the corn crop was silking, behind its typical pace of 19 percent by early July. Silks, the female part of the plant, extend from each ear of corn and catch the pollen from the male part, the tassel, to produce each kernel of corn.
    Traders will also increasingly focus on growing degree days, or GDD, a measure of heat accumulation and a barometer of yield potential. Corn likes hot days and cool nights. But heat makes corn, as long as the roots provide enough moisture. 
    Given the cool start to the season, the crop is running well behind in growing degree days. State crop reports will typically will list growing degree days updated each week and compared to seasonal averages. 
    “Many corn hybrids require 2,600-2,700 growing degree days from planting until the crop is mature,” Nielsen said.  
    So corn traders are fastening their seat belts. With USDA already projecting September 2009 US corn stocks to fall to a 13-year low, any heat-related losses in the maturing U.S. crop — even with the question of flood-related losses still up in the air — will no doubt drive expectations for sharper cuts in the market’s thin cushion of supplies. Market prices will tend to rise as those expectations fall. 
“Knee-high by the Fourth of July” 
    Photo of a corn field in northern Illinois taken over the July 4th weekend. An old benchmark used for years to gauge corn development. Typically, corn planted mid to late May will easily be knee-high by July 4th. But corn seeded in late April should be chest to head high by now. June-planted corn will be below the knee. Corn planting ran easily one to two weeks behind normal this year.


Oil is headed for a major correction downwards. All of today’s price is supported by rumors and fears rather than actual production shortfall. It is really ashame that the markets are so easily manipulated by speculators. There need to be controls and I think forcing actual delivey of commodities on the traders is the right answer.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

Some commodities should be classified as “utilities” instead and regulated by government. I mean those commodities that are basic to our lives. To have butter, or not, is not life changing, but to be without gasoline is. The abuse perpetrated by the speculators and oil companies should be deemed a crime against society. The government’s responsibility lies in not allowing special interests group from benefiting because of the conditions of the market. Witness the “falling” of some mortgages banks. Who is mostly harmed by this? Who is responsible? Same with oil, people speculating with commodities that are of basic necessity should not be allowed to do so.

Posted by elipicayo | Report as abusive

In this period of economic turmoil, any bad news is exaggerated while good news hardly raise an eyebrow. It is not surprising if people over-react, but controls on excessive speculation is apparently lax.


I have just come across this blog, hence the late comment. However I must take issue with the blaming of speculators for the rise. Taking oil as the most visible example – even Shell and BP have said said price rise sare nothing to do with their influence. This has been primarily caused primarily by 3 factors 1) increasing demand from Developing Economies 2) lack of new oil exploration and discovery and countries therefore trying to overstock on oil 3)subsidisation by most Developing Countries that have held the price of oil at the petrol pump below wholesale market cost therefore giving consumers no reason to moderate their consumption.

Finally, DC’s are starting to rectifying that situation but more should be done.

The situation is similar in other commodities, though government subsidisation is less of a force. One must also question price rises in commodities where there is no speculative market such as Thai Fragrant rice which has seen huge rises in the last year or so due to tarrifs, export bans and hoarding.

I hope this puts more perspective on what is going on. And remember every speculator that is initially a net buyer of a commodity must eventually become a net seller.

The only thing greater regulation of commodity markets will achieve is driving out liquidity. Hoepefully you understand what happens to prices when there is only one buyer and one seller.

Who will you blame then?


Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/