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The price is right for corn sales, economist says

Agriculture.com Staff 10/23/2006 @ 2:37pm

Corn growers entered harvest expecting to store their crop and wait for higher market prices. The wait already is over, says Chris Hurt, Purdue University agricultural economist.

"It looks like we'll have higher prices the rest of this year and into early next year," Hurt said.

Soybean prices remain flat but likely will head up in 2007, as farmers plant more acres of corn and fewer acres of soybeans, he added.

Corn prices surged when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this month's corn production estimate lower than what it had projected in September.

The USDA predicted the nation's farmers would produce 10.9 billion bushels of corn this year, at an average yield of 153.5 bushels per acre. The U.S. production estimate dipped two percent from the September projection. Indiana growers now are expected to produce 882.8 million bushels of corn this year, at a per-acre average of 165 bushels. The Indiana production figure slipped one percent since September.

Markets reacted quickly, catching some people by surprise, Hurt says.

"We're seeing corn prices through the central part of the Midwest approaching $3 a bushel, and that's very much at the high end of the USDA estimate for the year," he says. "Up until the last few weeks we've all been saying store the corn crop. Now, there should be some consideration by producers -- especially those who don't have sufficient on-farm storage -- to look at doing some pricing of that crop out of the field right now."

Hurt advises farmers not to abandon storing corn altogether because prices could climb even higher as more corn is turned into ethanol. He urged farmers to carefully watch market activity in the coming months and begin forming a market strategy for next year.

"We have some of the very best forward pricing opportunities that we have seen, perhaps, in many years," Hurt says. "A general recommendation right now is to not be too aggressive at forward pricing, particularly corn, for the 2007 season. That's largely based upon the tremendous growth in ethanol demand.

"Also, if we should have any kind of weather difficulties in the 2007 marketing year, we're going to see substantially higher prices on both corn and soybeans."

The ethanol-related price spike could adversely affect corn use in the livestock industry, which relies on corn as feed. Livestock producers already are looking to increase soybean meal levels in animal rations while cutting some corn use, Hurt says.

"Here in the United States and around the world, we already are beginning to get very concerned about the high corn prices for the livestock industry," he says. "Because soybean meal is going to be pretty cheap relative to corn, we think we're going to see stronger soybean meal use and some reduction on the corn use side.

"The really big adjustment that's coming for soybeans is the 2007 crop in the United States, with the dramatic need to increase corn acreage -- probably in the range of 8 million to 9 million acres. Most of those acres are going to come out of soybeans. All of these factors are beginning to put in place what means higher soybean prices as we go through this marketing year and, especially, into 2007."

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