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  • The International Longshore and Warehouse Union plans to hold a caucus sometime during the week of March 30 during which 90 union delegates will decide whether to recommend a tentative agreement on a new five-year contract covering workers at all 29 West Coast ports for consideration by the union's full membership.

  • Planting prospects, corn quality concerns, how to handle the closing of the pit trade ??? just a few of the conversations I overheard at this year's National Grain and Feed Association annual convention in San Antonio.

  • Warmer weather is allowing ice on northern portions of U.S. inland waterways to melt and break up.

  • Several shipping groups and the National Grain and Feed Association are among those voicing support for the Surface Transportation Board's proposal to require railroads to publicly file various weekly data reports pertaining to service performance. The railroads say the reports are unnecessary.

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  • If you're stressing to meet next week's deadline for selecting the federal crop insurance program that's right for your farm, you have another week to breathe.Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Friday that USDA is extending the deadline for reallocating base acres and selecting PLC or ARC for your farm by a week. The deadline is now Tuesday, April 7. "This is an important decision for producers because these programs help farmers and ranchers protect their operations from unexpected changes in the marketplace," Vilsack said Friday, according to a USDA report. "Nearly 98% of owners have already updated their yield and base acres, and 90% of producers have enrolled in ARC or PLC. These numbers are strong, and continue to rise. This additional week will give producers a little more time to have those final conversations, review their data, visit their local Farm Service Agency offices, and make their decisions."Friday's USDA report emphasizes that without selecting between the two programs, federal crop insurance for the 2014 crop year won't be made, and farmers will be defaulted to the PLC program automatically through 2018."If no changes are made to yield history or base acres by the deadline, the farm's current yield and base acres will be used. If a program choice of ARC or PLC is not made, there will be no 2014 crop year payments for the farm, and the farm will default to PLC coverage for the 2015 through 2018 crop years," according to USDA's Friday report. "Producers who have an appointment at their local FSA offices scheduled by April 7 will be able to make an election between ARC and PLC, even if their actual appointment is after April 7."

  • With crop prices continuing to stay at or below profitable levels, a lot of farmers are talking about the related markets and why prices for things like farmland haven't fallen in lockstep with the grains. Although there are some market dynamics that dictate things like land (that follow longer-term fundamental trends, for example) won't shadow the grain markets, there is speculation that market sectors like these are more decoupled than ever. Chat the latest land sales in your area and see what other farmers are sayingIf you're selling land, this is good news. If you're trying to build your acreage base, though, $3.50 corn and $9 soybeans don't allow for many high-dollar bids. Will it continue? Agriculture.com correspondent Bill Spiegel is tracking the land market with his Successful Land Sale series, featuring hot auctions around farm country. Have a local land auction that's getting a lot of attention in your neck of the woods? Comment below and let us know!The latest land analysisAre Farmland Cash Rents Going to Fall or Not?Farmers Holding on to More Acres -- FedAre You Buying or Selling Farmland?Worst Investment Out There? Farmland, Investor SaysThe latest Successful Land Sale features

  • Wheat, pre-USDA report positioning leading grains Friday.Corn and soybean futures are lower while wheat is higher heading into Friday's open outcry trading session, with wheat fundamentally in the driver's seat. However, analysts say the reason for wheat's defensive position -- improving weather conditions in the southern Plains -- isn't enough to keep wheat in the red heading into today's trade. Drought conditions eased in some parts of that region but worsened in others. Between the weather dynamics there and the trade counting down to next Tuesday's big USDA reports, look for prices to linger on both sides of unchanged today."Improved conditions and favorable weather forecast for the southern Plains had wheat defensive. Corn and soybeans were simply followers of the wheat market," says Kluis Commodities market analyst Cory Bratland. "I think today’s trade action will be a bit choppy as traders position themselves ahead of the March 31 USDA Planting Intentions and Stocks in all Positions reports."See the latest grain prices Plains drought is hanging on.Though the improvement in drought conditions in parts of the southern Plains is part of the storyline for the grain markets heading into today's session, that's not the trend everywhere in that region. Though parts of Oklahoma and Texas have received substantial rainfall lately, helping overall soil moisture levels there, this is not a regionwide trend; other parts of both of those states remain in dire shape as the wheat crop continues to wake up. Despite rainfall amounts of up to 4 inches, the drought still has a firm grip on that part of the nation."Worsening drought in the North contrasted with heavy rain and drought reduction in the South. Across Oklahoma and northern Texas, most areas received less than 0.5 inch of rain during the monitoring period which, coupled with daytime highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s, afforded no relief from drought," says USDA meteorologist Eric Luebenhusen. "Soil moisture likewise rapidly diminished as the unseasonable warmth increased crop- and pasture-water demands. Meanwhile, moderate to heavy rain (1 to 4 inches) from southern Oklahoma into central and southern Texas reduced drought coverage and intensity, with the most notable improvements occurring between San Antonio, Texas, and the Big Bend."See more in this week's U.S. Drought MonitorSelling the 'Beethoven of cattle grazing.'"The tallgrass prairie of eastern Kansas is to cattle grazing as Beethoven is to music. It just doesn't get much better for the beef producer. Stocker calves grazing the native tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills can put on between 2 and 2.5 pounds of beef each day without any supplement," writes Agriculture.com correspondent Bill Spiegel. "Thus, the March 20 sale of 4,348 acres of Flint Hills tallgrass pasture solicited big interest from buyers near and far. It's not often a sale of such large individual tracts of prairie comes to market. That, coupled with the recent bullish nature of the cattle market had folks ready to buy," says Rick Griffin, auctioneer with Griffin Real Estate and Auction Service of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. "Quality sells well, and this auction featured quality land," Griffin says."Check out more on this recent land sale and more big sales lately.

  • The grains are hanging onto gains heading into Thursday.A combination of mostly bullish factors continue to support grain prices, keeping them just into the black heading into Thursday's open outcry session. Though there's one potentially bearish factor -- strong South American soybean demand -- in play, the trade's anticipation of friendly USDA Prospective Planting and Grain Stocks data next Tuesday has traders keeping things on the positive side heading toward the weekend."Corn continues to find support with thoughts of a friendly report coming at us next week. Continued strong demand out of South America kept soybeans under pressure," says Kluis Commodities market analyst Cory Bratland. "With the bull spreads working in all three grains, we will likely see the markets supported on any pullbacks. I am watching to see if we have an uptick in export sales this week now that the US dollar has dropped 4-5% from its highs."Check out the latest grain prices Brazil's crop areas may be trimmed in the next year.Despite the fact the demand for soybeans from South America may be "keeping a lid on" soybean futures in the U.S., there's new news from Brazil that shows that lid may not stay on too tight in the medium to long term. Agriculture.com correspondent in Brazil Luis Vieira reported this week that, at a trade show in Rio Grande do Sul, the big talk has been that as part of the nation's overall economic contraction expected in the next few months, crop acres may actually be pared down, or simply held back from expansion, even in Mato Grosso, the state where soybean acres have been growing without pause for the last "several years," Vieira writes. And, a lot depends on the value of the U.S. Dollar and Brazilian currency, the Real; the nation doesn't want to watch the Real explode in value like the U.S. Dollar has in the last year, as that would sharpen the GDP contraction that's already underway in Brazil. "At a traditional farm show recently in Rio Grande do Sul, Agriculture and Livestock minister Kátia Abreu confirmed a consequence of the crisis that many Brazilian farmers had expected. Average farm business interest rates will increase from 6.5% to 8.5% starting with the contracts signed by next June," Vieira writes this week. "This led several analysts to predict that corn and soybean surfaces will not grow in the next season, even in Mato Grosso. Brazil's top soybean producing state would not have an area expansion of grains for the first time in several years."See more on this developing storyChat the turn of events in Marketing Talk The homestretch for federal crop insurance program selections is here.If you haven't decided which crop insurance program -- PLC or ARC -- is right for your farm, it's crunch time, with the deadline rolling around next Tuesday. A lot's been said about the 2 programs, namely in how selecting one over the other is a bellwether for your marketing outlook in the coming months and years. But, agriculture's cyclical, and farmers have seen boom-bust cycles like the one we're in now. So, what will happen once grain market prices rebound? An historical context can help, one economist says. "Prices over that period make a difference because if the season-average price remains below the reference price, the PLC will likely provide farmers with higher government payments than ARC over the tenure of the farm bill. If prices remain above the reference price, PLC will provide farmers with nothing while those who elect ARC will receive payments when the revenue per acre at the county level declines below the five-year Olympic average. If the revenue per acre increases, they get nothing," says University of Tennessee farm policy expert and economist Daryll Ray. "We think it is instructive to look back at the three previous periods that farmers have seen as golden eras in agriculture: World War I, World War II, and the export-led boom of the 1970s, to see what lessons they might offer about subsequent-year price levels." So, what lessons does history hold and how might it influence your decisions this spring?How Did Prices Fare Following Other Golden Eras in Agriculture?

 

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