Commodity Corner

Views on commodities and energy

Corn, soy compete with wind for acres

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turbine.jpgCrop scouts were busy in western Iowa on Wednesday trying to unlock the secrets of the upcoming soybean and corn harvest but they were ignoring another popular crop – wind.

Windmills are becoming increasingly common around the Corn Belt due to environmental concerns about traditional sources of power generation.

The wind harvest was taking up an unprecedented amount of acres this year in an area that some veteran scouts were referring to as this year’s garden spot of the Midwest in terms of potential corn and soybean yields.

In southern Minnesota, some growers were mulling offers from a wind farm company that had plans to erect windmills in that area. Some growers were being offered up to $5,000 a year to allow a windmill to be placed on their property, according to a farmer from that area who was taking part on the tour.

Post-flood crop oddities in Illinois

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replant-illinois-soy-1014-x-760.jpg    Crop scouts touring corn and soybean fields around the eastern Midwest this week have seen more than their fair share of the bizarre thanks to an abundance of moisture at planting and early in the growing season that forced some growers to cast off conventional farming practices and get creative.
    In eastern Illinois, heavy June rains on top of saturated soils drowned out freshly planted corn in some areas, sometimes more than once.
    The solution to fill those gaps in their valuable farmland? Plant soybeans, which can be seeded later in the season than corn.
    However, harvesting grain from those mish-mosh fields could be challenging. Farmers will have to turn on their GPS steering systems and navigate their combines around islands of corn that were lucky enough to survive the early season washout.
    Even veteran crop scouts that claim to have seen it all were baffled by the sight of one field in Edgar County, Illinois. After pooling water drowned out parts of a corn field, the farmer replanted the areas with soybeans. But some of the corn along the edges of the waterlogged patch survived and emerged along with the soybeans, leaving several overlapping rows with nearly mature grain-yielding corn and soybeans.
    USDA claims to have accounted for washed out acres in their harvested acres estimates, but those uneven swathes of corn and soybeans may still cause headaches for Pro Farmer crop experts on Thursday night when they will gather at the tour’s conclusion to come up with their yield forecast for both crops.

    Photo: Crop scouts Roger Bernard and Doug Miller of Iowa and Ramiro Pereda of Argentina inspect soybeans planted in a corn field that was partially flooded this spring in Edgar County, Illinois.

Farmers pose biggest threat to crop tour scouts

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Sharp edges on the leaves of corn plants, an unseen hole by the side of a field waiting for a car, a barbed wire fence protecting soybeans. All of these are hazards faced by crop scouts every year, not to mention the possibility of losing a boot in a muddy corn row.

But the biggest threat to scouts comes from farmers. Specifically, farmers who are infuriated by people trampling through their fields and damaging their crops. Stories abound about farmers making physical threats to scouts they discover in their fields.

Rainfall feast or famine in Ohio

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Dry Soybean Field    The old adage “rain makes grain” could use a revision this year… at least in Ohio. It should read “properly timed rain, distributed uniformly throughout the growing season, makes grain.”
    An abundance of moisture this past spring stalled planting by several days to several weeks. Conditions later improved and crop development pushed ahead in Ohio, but then it turned very dry in early July.
    Signs of this year’s challenging weather are evident throughtout the state.
    Corn cobs are undersized and kernels are smaller than desired. Agronomists on the tour think abundant moisture this spring did not challenge corn plants to set deep roots and now that conditions are drier, the moisture they need is out of reach.
    Soybean plants could be waist-high in one spot of a field and barely reaching the knee just a few paces away. Areas drowned out by excessive moisture this spring are now dusty and dry, with cracks so wide you could twist an ankle.
    “If this area is not considered to be under drought, it should be,” said Mark Bernard, a crop consultant with the eastern leg of the tour.
    According to the latest U.S. Agriculture Department’s drought monitor map, the region is not even considered abnormally dry, although more recent USDA data has shown a steep decline in soil moisture ratings.
    As of Sunday, Ohio topsoil moisture was rated 65 percent short to very short, compared with 43 percent a week earlier.
    The area’s soybeans, which are currently setting and filling pods, could benefit from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay which is approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast. Corn could also use some moisture to boost grain size, but some corn plants are already shutting down.
    Forecasters say the precipitation could arrive in Ohio by this weekend.

Crop Tour Scene Setter

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auction-pix-008.jpg    The annual Pro Farmer Midwest crop tour kicks off bright and early on Monday morning, giving participants a sneak peek at this year’s U.S. corn and soybean crops, valuable information that has the potential to send the futures market on another roller coaster ride this week.
    Severe flooding wreaked havoc on the newly seeded crops early in the summer, sending prices for both commodities to record levels.
    Good growing weather throughout July and August allowed the plants to recover nicely during the past six weeks and have left much of the crop looking very good from the roads. But farmers and agronomists insist that conditions are worse in the middle of the fields.
    The crop tour provides a perfect opportunity for those who want to see for themselves how the developing corn and soybean plants look. Scouts get down and dirty inspecting fields around the U.S. Midwest, counting soybean pods and ears of corn to estimate yields while taking note of any insect of disease issues.
    The tour means early mornings and long days for the scouts, something that farmers are accustomed but the schedule can be jarring for some of tour’s participants, including commodities traders, journalists and USDA officials. Bug spray, sun block and boots are a must for participants, quite a change from standard cubicle attire.
    Rain, a boon for the crops, can be the scourge of crop scouts as they scramble through the fields to get samples. Crop scouts also face challenges ranging from tricky navigation on country roads to the possibility of an angry farmer who does not want scouts trampling through his fields.
    The tour consists of an eastern leg and a western leg. The two groups will converge in southern Minnesota on Thursday afternoon. Final yield projections for both soybeans and corn will be presented on Friday. 

No more ‘beans in the teens’? U.S. farmers plan more soy, less corn

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American farmers are chilling on planting corn, or at least Monday’s USDA data points to a backlash against the overplanting of corn in 2007. So does this mean the ethanol promise is beginning to fade?

Soybean futures dropped their exchange-set maximum at the Chicago Board of Trade on Monday after the Department of Agriculture released its widely anticipated report on prospective plantings by U.S. farmers.