The Goods On Marketing Grain

Now that the crop is in the bin, I’m sure you’re all pleased to call time of death on this growing season. This, of course, doesn’t mean the work for this year is done; in fact, now that you know what you have, it’s time to turn crop into cash. All the production in the world means nothing until you get that crop to market. The optimist says there’s extra money to be made in marketing. The pessimist might see it as a huge, time-consuming job.

Your marketing style and strategy depend on which camp you fall into. Being courageous enough to admit marketing is not your forte and passing it on to someone else — another family member, business partner or professional — is a wise choice indeed.

Because let’s face it, farmers in Western Canada are, for the most part, participating in a global market. With that comes the need to diligently follow market trends and anticipate market rallies and possible slides. Participating in an increasing market locks in profits (we hope), but too often the chance is missed, sometimes because of indecision, and farmers end up selling into a slide.

This issue ofGrainewsis dedicated to grain marketing and farm business management with good reason. Questions regarding grain marketing are some of the most common I receive. Starting with this issue, we’ll have a series of six features discussing CWB producer payment options and how to best navigate around them (page 17). Brenda Tjaden Lepp and her team at FarmLink Marketing Solutions are very adept at using these options for their clients’ benefits, and she and I both would love to hear your real-world decision-making problems in regards to PPOs to see if we can help.

Then there’s my own rundown of marketing tips from industry experts on page 11. Three things really struck me in researching that article — marketing success depends on having and sticking to a plan, you must know exactly what you have, and there is still a knowledge gap when it comes to using exchanges as risk management tools. As Derek Squair of Agri-Trend Marketing put it, we’ve had grain exchanges for 120 years, yet the tools they offer aren’t readily used by farmers. Grain traders use them to make money; why shouldn’t farmers?

Lee Hart has also done a fantastic job in profiling some very different, but likely effective, marketing plans from your peers. This month’s Farmer Panel (page 20) highlights four farmers’ marketing plans for the year. It’s an interesting read, as it shows just how different plans can be, but also shows that each can work, depending on the situation.

For all you pulse growers out there, Jeff Jackson offers up his opinion on the current lentil market (page 31). It’s nice to see someone out there tell farmers to get a bit greedy. I highly recommend you send him your thoughts on this, or offer up your own question for his opinion. Jeff has no shortage of them, and would be willing to do a bit of a Q and A, if you’re willing (we’ll run it here in the magazine, but don’t worry, we won’t use names).

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

A few weeks ago, I asked Scott Garvey, machinery editor for Grainews,if he wouldn’t mind digging into some alternative energy stories. As usual, he came up with a collection of really neat, but also useful, articles. Would you believe there’s a tractor that runs on hydrogen fuel cells already out there and heading to the field in 2011? We’re likely 10 years away from this becoming a commercial model, but what I found interesting is that farmers are uniquely poised to become widespread users of hydrogen fuel. Read all about it on page 39.

Scott also managed to round up a great discussion on useful-scale biodigesters (page 34). The question of how to turn poop into power always fascinates me. I’ve seen first hand just how much of a nuisance manure management can be, but most agree there’s value in manure, either in nutrients or power, but using it has to be easy and cost effective in order for it to be feasible. Work down in the States is focused on scaling down biodigester designs with this exact purpose — to make the technology available to more average-size farms, and not just 1,000-head dairy operations.

CONGRATULATIONS AND WELCOME

Any time we can draw attention to our writers being recognized as outstanding, we’ll do it. Last month, our very own Singing Gardener, Ted Meseyton, was awarded the Media Community Food Champion Golden Carrot Award by Food Matters Manitoba (see photo in after Wheat and Chaff). Ted’s column is a well-loved feature inGrainews,and I appreciate that he’s being recognized for his devotion and passion to growing food. Congratulations, Ted!

In other exciting news, you asked for more humour in this magazine and you’re going to get it in the form of Janita Van de Velde’s new columnPostcards from the Prairies. How exactly does an agricultural economist become a humour writer? Why, go on a whirlwind adventure around the world and publish the (fictional) account of all that went on, of course! Janita’s first novel,Postcards Never Written, won a Reader’s Choice Award in 2008, and, as I can attest, will have you laughing through each wild adventure.

Janita, a mother of two who also works full time at a financial institution, has promised to carve out enough time to entertain us with her accounts of living life to the fullest on the Prairies. Her column will run in the Farm Life section of the magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

DON’T FORGET TO CHECK BINS

That just about does it for me for this month. As I write this, we’re digging out from an unfriendly blast of winter, but the forecast is calling for a warming trend, which got me thinking about bins (the mind of a farm writer is a strange thing indeed). Given that many of you only recently got the last of the crop in the bin, and that it went in in less than stellar condition, those storage bins will need babysitting for quite some time yet. Sure, cold weather helps to cool the bins in some ways, but the bigger the bin, the longer it takes and the higher the risk of spoilage. Even now, bins may require air, heat or turning. Don’t let all your hard work get fouled up in storage — take the time to check on bins for signs of spoilage as often as possible. But be safe about it, eh? No one needs you falling off or into a bin.

November officially kicks off conference and farm show season for me. If you see me poking around at various conferences in Saskatchewan (and yes, even Manitoba), please say hello, it’d be great to meet you.

Lyndsey

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