Gene Logsdon and Friends

And How Is The Corn Doing In Your Area?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 11, 2013 at 8:27 am

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From GENE LOGSDON

There are two things that a journalist should learn to avoid: making generalizations about human conduct and making predictions about the weather. Whatever one says about human behavior, there are individuals somewhere who will make a liar out of you.  Ditto with the weather— I have a hunch climate change will cause more red faces in the next fifty years than red sunsets.

My red face is about predicting this year’s corn crop. Even though I still could be right, I should know better. There is so much corn growing over the face of the earth this year, even if you get it right for one locality, the yield in another—including another country— might cancel out the significance of your numbers.

A few posts ago, I wrote that the corn crop this year would be a record high, based on what I could see across the road from our house and what a friend in Iowa could see across the road from his house. Two local landscapes do not an accurate forecast make. My friend now writes that while corn in his area, the northeast corner of Iowa, is still mighty good, the story is different over the rest of the state. As for me, if I had just driven three miles, I could have found several hundred acres of good river bottomland corn totally destroyed by high water. That might have influenced me a little differently. And as many of you responded to that post, the corn in your areas was not so hot either.

I regularly read the expert predictions about the corn crop, mostly because they make for amusing humor writing. They gabble on about black layer in the kernels and receding ear tips, lodged stalks, heat degree days and average first frost dates. There is an inordinate amount of time spent on these minutiae because there are thousands of moneychangers whose paper profits come from betting correctly on corn yields. In addition many more thousands of farmers and food processors are trying to keep their asses covered in the futures markets. So if the weather has been dry, three drops of rain will drop the corn price twenty cents in one day. Or, if someone finds that the tips of the ears in three fields in the middle of Illinois have not filled out completely, the price shoots up 30 cents. It is difficult for an outsider to adjust his mind to all this. News that makes the crop look better means poorer. News that the crop is worse makes the prices skyrocket. The trader does not care about the crop itself, but is just trying to buy or sell quicker than the others. In fact it may just be his computer that does the reacting. And now farmers have become traders too. One day a few years ago, I was sitting in a grain elevator chatting with two big grain growers. They both kept one eye peeled on the Chicago Board of Trade figures flowing across the screen on the wall. Suddenly the prices started rising precipitously and both farmers leaped from their chairs and battled each other for the phone on the wall. Today of course they would just reach for their cell phones and see who could punch keys faster. The economists call this “price discovery” and insist that it is all for the good.

The crop yield prophets are full of words: “power-blocking high pressure” aka “dome of doom”,  el nino and el baloneyo, soybean rust, resistant rootworms, hurricanes about to fire up, jet streams high over the Arctic.  When all else fails, trot out the latest on climate change.

On DTN/Progressive Farmer online, I followed one particularly determined effort at yield discovery if not price discovery as a group of corn experts and journalists journeyed from Ohio to Iowa in August, sampling corn all the way. Following reams of reports, the conclusion of one of my favorite ag journalists, Pam Smith, on August 26, was: “All I can say is that it is too soon to predict yields.”

Maybe just sitting here on my deck and watching the corn grow across the road is as a good a way as any to achieve “price discovery.” Sure is a lot cheaper.
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  1. It’s funny because I was just sitting in my grain and marketing class two hours ago. I guess Gene was thinking like my teacher. At least that class is more fun then my Stats class I’m about to go to.

  2. great, thanks to Lumax!
    (except for the deer)

  3. Well said. If it’s a crop, it is the best most glorious crop ever. I have found it is better to limit this reading. It doesn’t pay to get to close to this picture. A person might start believing the drivel if you read enough of it.

  4. The futures market is like Poker and Las Vegas if you stay in the game long enough you’ll loose all your money.Just like Wall St those on the inside are one step ahead of the suckers on the outside.

  5. My corn all got diplodia and/or gibberella stalk rot, possibly due to so much rain. I’m in Ohio too, not that far from Gene. I was growing it for corn meal, not for sweet corn.

  6. I don’t know about the corn futures markets, but I do know I have sweet corn and pop corn in the larder and to me that is money in the bank.

  7. I can’t speak for field corn yields (because I don’t raise it), but sweet corn was a little odd this year. I decided to wait till late to put out my first crop. It rotted in the ground (too wet). The rest of my plantings produced nice stalks and yields. However, I guess due to the late dry and heat, most everything was very starchy even tho it was picked when the kernels were small. Weather or bad luck, I don’t know. The cows still eat it

  8. If I could I would get rid of the futures trade for all edible crops. This trading has been the downfall of our farmers and caused hunger and misery for our people. The only good it does is make a small number of people richer than they already are.

  9. I don’t grow it, but from my little view in southeast Indiana, it looks a-maize-ing this year.

  10. The one consistent feature of crop forecasts is the annual effect of “el baloneyo” on all prognostications. Nice one.

  11. I just referenced one of your older posts in my blog entry at http://pigsatdelphi.blogspot.com/

    It’s been a good year for the 1/10 acre of Nothstine Dent I planted out here in Western Washington.

  12. Looks good across the road from me, here in NE Connecticut, but I think it’s been a while since our projected corn yield influenced market prices.

    Slightly related topic — I found out recently that the local farmer who’s doing well selling local chickens to the restaurants in the state spends months at a time feeding them Venezuelan corn. Go figure.

  13. Gone are the days were corn were selling for a sweet price. I remember as a kid buying corn for ten cents or ten for a dollar. Now factoring in climate change, and poor crops health, farmers are left to depend for their crops and their share of the earning while corporate greed will just drive up the cost and effect us as customers.

  14. Hi Gene – new reader of your site, which I’ve come to quickly appreciate. I’m not a farmer, but sometimes I dream about it.

    I do take a keen interest in matters of food production, land stewardship, and the environment. I wish I could share your skepticism about climate change, but the news is overwhelming and the data hard to refute (by me, anyway.) In any case, I don’t know your whole position, obviously, but I must admit to admiring your calmness. I could use a little of that.

    • Zach, when I say more red faces than red sunsets about climate change, I mean from both sides of the debate. Gene

      • Thanks for your response, Gene. I think you’re right. Keeping our heads is vital, whatever occurs.

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