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This is a disaster recovery call-in edition of Market to Market, The Weekly Journal of Rural America.
Pearson: Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Fifteen years ago the floods of '93 did an estimated 20 billion dollars in damages. But many government officials now are saying that the floods of 2008 likely will eclipse those of 1993 in both cost and devastation. More than 38,000 residents have been evacuated from cities and towns across Iowa. 20% of the state's 25 million tillable acres have been flooded. And farmers are pondering numerous options. Joining us are four experts who will answer many of the agriculturally related questions that no doubt are on your mind. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey was sworn in for his first term in January of 2007 and is a fourth generation farmer from Spirit Lake. Craig Rice is Director of the St. Paul Regional Office of USDA's Risk Management Agency and oversees the Federal Crop Insurance Program for the states of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Brent Wilson is an agronomist with Pioneer Hi-Bred who serves as the company's Technical Services Manager for Iowa and Missouri. And Elaine Kub is a commodity futures market analyst for DTN in Omaha, Nebraska and, of course, Elaine regularly lends her insight to Market to Market. We appreciate that. I want to say welcome to you all. We invite you, by the way, to submit your questions to our panel. You can do that by simply calling our operators that are standing by, we have members from the state FFA Council taking your calls and many others. We'd love to hear from you this evening. If you have questions, call now, 866-282-2846, or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. That is email@example.com. Let's get going and let's talk to our guests here tonight. Again, we want to thank all of them for joining us. Let's start first with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey just back from touring the state of Iowa today. Bill, what did you find? What can you tell us about the devastation that has hit the state?
Northey: Well, we're part of a delegation that flew from Des Moines up to Charles City down to southeast Iowa down to Burlington. Saw some areas that I think almost look worse from the air than from the field or from the road and then saw some areas where there's some good crops as well but one of the nice things is we saw some folks in the field, we saw some spraying going on, some anhydrous going on the ground and some planting happening. And it's not many times that we're actually happy about seeing planters go to the field June 20th but this year we're very happy to see that happen and we're seeing some of those acres, some of the 20% of the acres start to go back with some replants. We need a lot more, we need this crop.
Pearson: And that is kind of the bright side here. The dark side is obviously heavy rain, moisture, the flooding in the low lying areas in particular, damage to a lot of long-term conservation improvements that have been made on a number of farms. I know you're seeing a lot of that. What are your thoughts? What's going to happen here?
Northey: There are several pieces, certainly the crop that is lost that either got planted and got drowned out trying to get those acres back in. It's that growing crop that's been under stress and have we lost some of the yield in that, I guess we'll see what the rest of the year brings to see whether that happens. And then even the price impact on the livestock producers out there as they try and assimilate $7 corn when we were just getting used to assimilating $5 corn. But, you're right, the conservation impact as well, we've got a survey out to the counties that we're doing with the NRCS folks in the state to be able to figure out what was the impact of conservation practices? What is it going to take to be able to repair those practices? Many of those practices work very well in spite of not being designed to handle ten and fifteen inches of water. They helped prevent some of the flooding, they helped prevent a lot of erosion but we do have erosion that occurred as well.
Pearson: Bill, you brought up such important factors. We have planters go into the field in many places trying to fix holes that are in a lot of corn fields. When we're talking $7 plus corn we hate to see those holes and farmers especially hate to see them in a year like this one, trying to back fill those. We have a lot of soybeans in the state that are not planted yet. I'm really pleased to have with us Brent Wilson, he's an Agronomist with Pioneer Hi-Bred International. Of course, Pioneer is a major underwriter of Market to Market and we certainly appreciate that and Brent, appreciate you being here tonight and lending us your agronomic expertise. Bill talked about it and we're seeing some planters roll right now. Give us your take on this disaster. 20% of our farms and farmland have been flooded, we've seen a lot of damage, a lot of replant that's going to occur and a lot of beans still aren't in the ground.
Wilson: Mark, I guess as we look at this there's really kind of three situations. You have the crop that is in recovery, that looks like it will survive, it will be productive. There's the seed that's going in the ground right now, the replant situation that hopefully with the good weather this week will get some acreage put to bed here and get corn and soybeans in the ground. And then we start talking about some of the ultra late plantings that we'll have after the water goes off the river bottoms and some of those holes finally drain out which will probably occur in July. So, there's kind of three main components that we look at as agronomists. The recovery piece is actually the hardest one to kind of estimate because there's so much variability in fields it depends on when it was planted, how far along the crop was before it went under water, how fast the water got off the crop. This week, obviously, if we're putting seed in the ground now we're looking at probably close to half of our optimum yield potential in both corn and soybeans. And obviously once June ends the corn window, planting window kind of comes shut and so then we talk about soybeans as we move into that month of July and, again, we look at your potential somewhere 33%, 45% of maximum once we get into July on soybeans.
Pearson: As we look at this crop and, of course, we hear about and you've been on the cutting edge of this whole seed technology improvement and so forth we still need some time for those crops to grow and so forth and like you say once we get into the month of July we're pretty much over for corn.
Wilson: It's pretty tough because you feel that by the end of June we're looking at depending where you are in the state around 2000 heat units which we use to measure corn development and so we're going to be using hybrids that are ADCRM maturity products which obviously don't have the kind of yield potential we're looking for to plant in Iowa that we'd normally expect. So, we've just run out of time to get a corn crop done. Obviously soybeans are a lot more adaptable, they can flex much easier than corn can and really compensate for the late plantings. But, again, we're still not going to be able to get the kind of yield potential out of those real late plantings as you would in a normal planting date.
Pearson: Help us evaluate a corn field that's been under water. That's one of the questions that has come in, field has been flooded maybe for 24 hours, maybe for 72 hours, in some cases Bill you saw some today that was longer than that. What is the survivability for a corn plant in those conditions?
Wilson: It unfortunately depends a lot as far as the temperature is probably a big factor. The cooler it is the longer that crop can survive under water so obviously we've had relatively cooler temperatures here during the month of June so surviving has been a little easier for both crops, corn and soybeans. If we can get leaf area above water we can also buy some time that way. But rule of thumb is we're looking at four or five days with a corn crop that is above water before it's going to be done and that, again, assumes that we do drain that soil out after the water goes off the field because the roots need to breathe as well. And so we need to get that saturated soil fixed, we need to get the water out from those root systems so they can start to do their job in picking up nutrients.
Pearson: A lot of expensive nitrogen has been applied in 2008, too. What is the status? Where is that stuff now?
Wilson: Again, it's going to vary quite a bit. I know our field agronomists are out actually using some soil nitrate tests to get some measure. It varies a lot and so probably our suggestion is that it's pretty tough to say a general answer for anybody's situation. I would urge them to get some local assistance to really take a look at it and see what they have. In general there's still nitrogen there. The question is, is it going to be enough to keep that crop going throughout the rest of the season? So, I'm sure we'll see a fair amount of applications go in to try and kind of spark that crop up and keep it going here.
Pearson: We really appreciate the e-mails and calls that are coming in. Please keep those coming in. We'll get to you as quickly as we can. And Brent, before I leave you, I have one for you. On a light note, this is from Decatur City, a livestock producer, 100 head of cows and calves, he's not liquidating stock due to great clover grazing in pastures. We've got some great pasture conditions out there this year.
Wilson: If it's green and likes water it's growing really well.
Pearson: Good point, appreciate it. Alright, let's talk about the other side of this thing and that is we have been shifting away from disasters and disaster funding to federal crop insurance for some time in agriculture. And we're really happy to have Craig Rice with us, again, Director of the USDA's Risk Management Agency. Go ahead and talk about this. Federal crop insurance is so critical for producers these days. We're running into a situation this year with extreme conditions. Will we see some changes in federal crop or pretty much your contract is your contract?
Rice: Well, as you know the federal crop insurance program is delivered by private companies. In the case of Iowa we have sixteen companies delivering it. We make the rules up front and we're supposed to stick by those rules because companies share in the risk of the crop. If we make changes that causes the risk to go up then they would expect some compensation. I'm not saying that nothing can happen but it's unlikely because it will cost someone some money.
Pearson: As Brent mentioned we're running past that window to get corn planted in the ground and as we look at replants or preventative planting kind of talk about what the issues that farmers need to be walking through with their agents.
Rice: Well, there's kind of two scenarios that are playing out, one where they are prevented from planting and two, where they lost their crop. If you're prevented from planting your crop, if you're insured, most acres in Iowa are insured and that is the good news, 90% of the acres are insured and most farmers buy up at higher levels so there's a lot of coverage. I estimate about $11 billion dollars out there. Prevented planting is covered under the standard policy. You'd get 65% of your indemnity or your guarantee in the event you're prevented from planting. Now, that does limit somewhat your options as far as replanting another crop. If you take the preventative planting payment and the land is expected to stay black or a cover crop unless the cover crop is harvested after November 1st. So, it does limit your options. The final planting day for corn is May 31st and for soybeans it's June 15th so there's still time to make planting for soybeans. If you lose your crop you can get your indemnity payment and still try for a second crop that you don't necessarily have to insure.
Pearson: So there is a possibility you could go back out, receive that indemnity payment and then go out and try and get something?
Rice: Correct. And it varies a lot by the circumstances and we always encourage people to talk to their agent and get that discussion going on early so the producer knows all his options and how it may affect his insurance and his indemnities that he may receive.
Pearson: Some good points, again, the risk management agency, federal crop insurance, as you say privately delivered. It's a unique program within the government the way it functions. But it really starts with the producer talking to that local agent and getting some conversations going there if he's looking at a prevented planting situation. The concern a lot of people have is, you know, I'm in an area where everybody else is done, I was in the low spot or I was in the river bottom, I didn't get anything done. Is that person going to be judged against the other folks in that community?
Rice: The loss adjustor is expected to make that judgment call. I suspect this year that will be pretty easy because it's pretty widespread. The wetness is here, it's visible. I don't see that as a major issue. But that is a judgment call that the adjustor makes. Was it general to the area? Were there other people who were prevented from planting? They'll have to make that call.
Pearson: Get in touch with your agent, bottom line get moving, pictures, whatever it is that you need to make your case with your adjustor.
Pearson: Appreciate it, Craig, very much, now let's talk about the economic impact, the marketing impact, the price impact of this problem. A huge amount of the corn in Iowa has been critically damaged. This is a year when we had to have a huge crop. We were in the midst of filling a tremendous amount of energy for our country through biofuels, particularly ethanol. We were hoping for a 14 billion bushel corn crop so we could satisfy that demand as well as the demand for livestock. Elaine Kub is with us, of course, one of our regular market analysts on Market to Market with DTN. Elaine, I'll tell you what, on the show last week I made the comment to Virgil Robinson, I said, I just mentioned $7.25 corn, I never thought I'd see that in my lifetime and here we are. It's Disneyland for farmers out there. The flip side is we're looking at much higher expenses on the input side and many of those expenses have already been included in their losses right now. What do you see ahead for the corn market, let's look at the corn market first, based on what has happened so far? The details are still pretty sketchy about what that damage is.
Kub: Exactly, leading up to this for the past couple of years it's been a demand driven rally and now we've obviously entered into a point of a supply driven spike. But what we see coming in and what is going to be the case throughout this summer is that we're going to have a very slow churning higher, slow stream of bullish news coming in or bearish news, a slow stream of news coming into the market and in the meanwhile traders will be hypersensitive to any indications of demand destruction. Like you said, we wanted a 14 billion bushel crop but we're not going to get it but we do need, you know, if demand stayed absolutely stable we would need to come up with 13 billion bushels somehow unless we started importing from Mexico our ending stocks are not going to supply for that. So, the issue is where does that demand come from and where does it come off of and that's what traders are looking at. What they looked at this past week, why you see a step up and you see and you assess how demand goes and that's probably the course we're going to take throughout the summer. And I do think that the agronomics, the potential for more bullish news coming in agronomics wise is large. We won't know until August what these yields are going to be so you see risk premium if nothing else, you should have a premium in this market just for the risk, for the uncertainty so we'll see that. Until we know what the crop will be the only thing that can keep this, that will keep the resistance in the market is demand loss.
Pearson: As you look at this market right now, let's switch to soybeans, again, as Brent mentioned a little bit bigger window there to get some soybeans planted in 2008. Are you going to see some pressure there maybe?
Kub: Maybe but the other thing about soybeans also if you look at demand it does not have as elastic of a demand as corn. And I say that, historically actually soybeans have a larger coefficient of demand elasticity just because historically the international community used them in different ways. But now so much of U.S. soybeans gets exported and that is definitely the case why Argentina can't export soybeans. So, the demand side for soybeans will remain strong even if the supply is a little more bearish for soybeans than it is for corn.
Pearson: Alright, bottom line you're not in a big hurry to make sales?
Kub: Absolutely not, especially if you're in the situation where you would be selling a crop that isn't going to be produced. This is such a volatile market. If you're working in futures or options it's so expensive to put on a hedge that you won't be able to cash in on it later.
Pearson: Elaine, we're going to come back to you with some more comments. But some more questions are coming in. Bill Northey gets our first one. A number of these are government related, government policy and looking around you're the only politician I've got, Bill, so I'm going to you. Now, this is a question, this is news to me. What do you think of Senator Grassley's idea to open up CRP for soybean production for this year yet?
Northey: There have been some groups calling for that and the challenge is trying to get that done, first of all, legally there's issues with a contract that's already there. Second of all, it's tough to be able to get the beans in the ground in stuff with four foot tall grass on it. And I think for us we've been focusing on making sure that we're doing everything with those acres that are intended to be planted right now. And we don't create any disincentives accidentally within the crop insurance program that causes folks to leave that field black when it could be get at least half a crop on it. And so even though we've got chances to be able to get something in a farmer may not actually be able to earn more money by planting a crop that he only expects to get half a yield on depending on the price election, the prevented plant situation. We'd love to be able to make sure that folks are getting all those acres in that they can in those existing acres and I think there's some real changes that could help with that, extending the date, offering the opportunity for folks to be able to plant in prevented plant areas either considering short season corn as another crop that doesn't count towards your yield history. There's some things like that, that I think offer more opportunity to get acres.
Pearson: One of our callers pointed out that we could still plant 98 day corn by tomorrow.
Northey: By tomorrow, that's right. Afternoon or morning? Yeah.
Pearson: Here's some other questions coming in and, Bill, I need you to comment on this one too. If USDA's numbers continue to shrink as Elaine has pointed out we're going to see tremendous rationing occur. Could we see some government policy changes regarding the renewable fuels mandates, perhaps eliminating the import tariff on biofuels coming into the United States? Are some of those things, have you heard that? Is that a possibility?
Northey: Obviously there have been folks that have been opposed to ethanol all along, they wanted that to happen whether we had high prices or low prices. They wanted it back when we had $2 corn let alone when we had $5 corn and now $7 corn. So, there are folks that are advocating for that. It does create more discussion around that. I think it certainly makes a mistake to drop an import tariff if you're not doing anything with the current tax credit or you're subsidizing foreign ethanol and I think we've got to be very careful about taking short-term issues like the drought that we're in right now and creating long-term policy out of it. We are going to grow corn again, we're going to grow quite a bit of corn this year in Iowa and there's more places than Iowa that grow corn as well and we're going to grow more corn next year and we don't want to go back to the days of the 1980s when we were worried about what to do with that huge stockpile of corn. After all, look at our input costs right now. We can't handle corn prices back at those lower levels. So, I think we have to be very careful about that. I'm sure there will be discussion about it.
Pearson: Alright, Bill, let's switch over to the agronomic issues. Brent, I want to get back to you. I've had several questions, a lot of people calling with very specific crop issues. And I'm going to give you one and I think you can respond to this one. That is yield potential for corn right now that is six inches tall and extremely yellow. Can it come back?
Wilson: Actually that corn doesn't concern me as much as the stuff that hasn't been planted yet. You can be thankful for that. The big thing is just how fast we get the excess water out of that root system because you can strangle a crop from below just like you can above. So, if the soil is drained out it will take a while for that root system to recover. And we think about it's the real tiny little fine roots that are the ones that do all the work as far as pulling up nutrients. We have to re-grow those and kind of get that water flow moving back towards the plant after that soil is dried. And it will recover but it's going to take some time for that to happen and it does depend on soil drainage for that to occur.
Pearson: Soil drainage, are you going back, are you taking soil tests at this point or just go ahead and just side dress some nitrogen to try to improve that situation?
Wilson: There's a lot of science behind how to estimate nitrogen and none of it is exact right now because it is such a fluid environment, no pun intended. But probably the best rule of thumb is if you go out to a field that is very yellow and you take a spade, dig up a corn plant and you're seeing healthy roots throughout the rooting depth wait a little bit and if it doesn't recover in a couple of days then obviously that field needs some help because that tells me that if the root system is functioning and it's still yellow then your nitrogen is probably gone. But it requires that time, a little bit of patience here to let that root system redevelop before it can pull in the nitrogen that might be there that might help it along.
Pearson: A little heat would probably help too, wouldn't it?
Wilson: Heat would help and that's probably the other thing to think as we evaluate fields is kind of go through some of the mental calculations of how long the field was saturated because we know we're losing about four percent of our nitrogen per day of saturation so we can start to do some calculations there as well and finally using some of the soil nitrate tests is another way to kind of guide us in understanding what's in that profile specifically and on a field-by-field basis.
Pearson: As you look at what's happening right now agronomically around the state and, again, we have the flooded areas, we have some areas and Bill mentioned we've got some areas where the corn looks pretty darn good, some of those hillsides this year are going to produce a lot of corn seeing some of that balance occur out there. Several questions have come in, my corn is shot, can I whip around and can I go back in there and drill beans?
Wilson: Probably the first thing that you think about is which herbicide program because obviously there's several herbicides that would not allow us to go back in with soybeans. So, working with your input supplier and understanding what your options are. If you're not prevented from doing that honestly that window is still open to put soybeans in and I do know growers that are sticking out for corn even in the last two weeks of June just because the way the commodity prices and the development of markets, there's some advantages there as well as you think about what the value of corn is and could be if we're going to come up short here in the crop this year.
Pearson: Absolutely, and the other issue is crop insurance which, Craig, coming back to you, that whole concept of switching now from corn acres to bean acres this year. What all does that involve from a crop insurance standpoint?
Rice: Well, if your corn crop failed you can collect an indemnity on that. And you can replant to another crop.
Pearson: So you've got that option. From that standpoint you're going to be covered probably with a historical or a county average?
Rice: You can use your average. Now, it depends upon the timing too. If we're talking end of July that changes things from today because if you wanted to insure that second crop of soybeans it's going to take a hit on your guarantee. Your guarantee is going to be less. It's adjusted taking into consideration the greater risk that is associated with planting later because you are probably planting a variety that is not what your APH was based upon.
Pearson: Excellent. So, those are all things that producers need to keep in mind, again, just to rephrase get in touch with your agent. You're going to find exactly what your options are. They're very well informed. There's been a lot of continuing education. All the ones I've talked to have been excellent, Craig.
Rice: I think you're going to find there's sixteen companies that deliver the program in Iowa, they're eager to please. It's been a while since we've had a disaster. They like doing business in Iowa. It's very profitable for them. Their service is how they sell things and I think you'll find that they'll be working hard to take care of their producers.
Pearson: Let's remind you of a couple of things. If you'd like more information about any of the agencies or any of the services that we talked about here on Iowa Public Television we've put together a comprehensive list on our Web site. Just go to iptv.org and click on the Iowa Natural Disasters 2008 Web link. You'll find phone numbers and links to other Web sites that will help answer your questions. So, by all means go there and check it out, you'll find plenty of information and links to a lot more information. Okay, now Elaine, a lot of questions are coming in that are kind of surprising me, really concerned about the cash market here in the state of Iowa. Obviously we've got a lot of problems with the production in this state in 2008. We're not seeing much of a response to the cash market. Several of the questions that come in say if we're in such a short crop why are we not seeing a basis level improvement?
Kub: Well, I think part of the frustration that comes with the current basis levels is that you have decades and decades of historical expectations of a tighter basis, a stronger basis and those days are past us and part of that reason is these transportation problems that we're having in Iowa and throughout the country. It costs a lot of money to move that grain and maybe you can't move it. So, why would an elevator pay more for corn that it can't pass on or that it can't move across the rail right now? That's part of the reason there. And the other thing you're going to find in the cash market, if you're a buyer, if you were hoping to find a deal like you did at the last harvest I'd say that's not going to happen this year. It's incredibly unlikely that we're going to have this big glut of corn, this ample supply and basis drops really dramatically in October the way it did in October 2007. So, that's something to look forward to but I'd say that these basis levels are probably fair and probably unlikely to change.
Pearson: Let me ask you this question from one of our viewers, I've heard this one a lot. Secretary Northey, I know you've heard this one too. This is for Elaine. I've already sold 40% of our corn at $5. Is there anything that can be done?
Kub: Well, you can buy it back on the futures market. In fact, I've even heard of people who bought and had a cash crop that they were expecting to have -- they're essentially doubling their risk but it can be done and that is maybe your best option right now especially if you're in a situation where you forward contracted and your insurance coverage won't pay you for more than $1.50 over what the CRC base price was, it may be in your best interest to have some kind of a cash hedge for delivering to the long side on the futures or options market. But I'd like to point out, again, that the futures and option markets are both so volatile and really expensive to be involved in. It's really hard to make that decision right now.
Pearson: As we look at this market and we look at what's ahead and we see these tremendous record costs and producers are looking into 2009, this is another question, let's look beyond the problems that we had this year. Seldom do we have a crop problem of this magnitude back-to-back. What about 2009? Are prices there such that maybe we should be taking advantage or making some sales in 2009?
Kub: Yeah, futures spreads have built in this expectation for low stocks throughout the 2008-2009 marketing year so that will lead right into 2009 crops. That's true for both corn and soybeans and today, actually Friday the 20th, the CME group added March 2010 soybean contracts onto the board which is a very rare step. That's three months early. There wasn't a lot of interest in them but it's a measure of how interested they were pressured by traders, they really wanted to get that information and get that ability on the board.
Pearson: The option is out there then. Would you recommend, are you at the point where we need to start thinking about 2009 and perhaps the flip side of this whole thing where we might see a lot more acres coming in to satisfy the demand for a $7 corn market?
Kub: It's possible but the only place in the world to get more acres right now is South America and that's really unlikely at this point. I don't think they can expand very much so we've put as many acres almost as we can in the U.S. into production. So, I wouldn't say we're looking at more acres. I would say, however, that I'd be cautious just because you can't even get that opportunity to forward contract with your elevator. A lot of elevators aren't offering that option right now.
Pearson: One more question for you, Elaine. The continued weak dollar continues to drive demand. Do you see a change in that? We talked about that on the show tonight.
Kub: Yeah, the dollar moves in very long-term trends and it seems that it's bottoming out now. The fed, Ben Bernanke, everybody has made indications that they will work to make the dollar stronger. So, that will cut into export demand but, like I said, export isn't really the issue at this point in time especially not for corn. It's domestic demand that's going to be driving or the lack thereof will be driving the corn market. So, I'd say our situation of letting exports drive prices may be last year's story.
Pearson: Let's go back and talk a little bit about, Bill, on your trip today -- Secretary Northey, on your trip today around the state of Iowa you've seen a great deal, you've seen a lot of damage. We're hopefully getting the recovery mode going on. Do you feel pretty good about what is happening in terms of FEMA? We've had a tremendous amount of activity certainly in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and the urban areas. Are we going to see that in rural areas of the state now? A question from a listener.
Northey: I think that we will. I think right now we're really going through the analysis of what happened out there and trying to figure out what the losses are. But as folks know if you have a house in the city you don't have flood insurance you don't have any insurance on that house and so you're in tough shape. That's true on the farm as well. And so it's not only the farm but it's the farm buildings and in many cases those facilities do not have any flood insurance and so therefore those are losses that are not covered by any insurance company at all.
Pearson: We really appreciate all of the input from all of our guests here tonight, want to thank you all for your answers and your insights. That is going to wrap up this special edition of Market to Market. Again, if you'd like more information about any of the agencies or services we talked about go to iptv.org, click on the Iowa Natural Disasters 2008 Web link. You'll find phone numbers and links to other Web sites that will help answer your questions. And be sure to join us for our regular broadcast of Market to Market Fridays at 8:00 and Sundays at 12:00 Noon. Until then, I'm Mark Pearson. Thanks for watching and have a great week.
Market to Market is a production of Iowa Public Television which is solely responsible for its content. Funding for Market to Market is provided by Pioneer Hi-Bred because sound information plus consistent yields can help farmers stay on track. The people who bring you Pioneer brand corn hybrids proudly support Market to Market.