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  • The World Food Prize named Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh its 2015 laureate for his role in developing the largest non-governmental organization to tackle food insecurity and poverty around the world.  BRAC (formerly known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) was founded by Sir Fazle in 1972, and has since helped lift more than 150 million people out of poverty with advancements in the poultry, seed, and dairy industries in Bangladesh. BRAC has spread its approach to 10 other developing countries, including Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Liberia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. Described as a “strategic thinker, and a man with a future vision” by Dr. M.S. Swaminathanthe, the chairman of the World Food Prize Selection Committee and the first World Food Prize Laureate in 1987, Sir Fazle has lead BRAC for more than 40 years, addressing the link between hunger and poverty with a concentration on scientific innovation and local participation. BRAC has focused on ways to help increase crop yields, livestock production, and research and development on new seed varieties, while keeping sustainability, adaptability, climate change, the environment and affordability in mind. As a result, more than 500,000 farmers have access to efficient farming practices, technologies, and financial support services to help manage and control their livelihood. Empowering women through microcredit programs, small loans, education, and healthcare has also been a primary focal point to assist them in leading their village and uniting the community. BRAC recently made a pledge to reach 2.7 million additional girls through schooling, teacher training, empowerment programs, and scholarships. “We have always used an approach to development that puts power in the hands of the poor themselves, especially women and girls,” he said. “Educated girls turn into empowered women, and as we have seen in my native Bangladesh and elsewhere, the empowerment of women leads to massive improvements in quality of life for everyone, especially the poor.”BRAC has more than 110,000 employees around the world, with an additional 150,000 BRAC-trained entrepreneurs that provide affordable goods and services, such as seed, medicine and training, to their rural neighbors.Photograph: The World Food Prize 

  • July is here to bring us sunshine, county fairs, and carnivals. But some farmers are still in the fields working on planting or harvest they usually would have had done weeks ago.{[SINGE PLAYER VIDEO]} But June brought on record precipitation – two to three times the normal amount in some areas – which hasn’t paired well with a lack of dry days to provide some relief. That may be changing soon.Looking at the one- to five-day outlook, many areas of the Midwest will get some additional dry time through the July 4th weekend, says Dan Hicks, meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather. “This may allow some drying across the wet areas of the Midwest, reducing some of the flooding problems and slowing drying some of the fields,” explains Hicks. “This may allow some increase in fieldwork in a few areas as far as completion of soybean planting and possibly a little bit of winter wheat harvest.”The six- to ten-day forecast isn’t giving hope for much of an open window as rains across the Midwest will bump back up to normal or above normal rainfall. Expect below average temperatures in that time as well.For a full July weather outlook, be sure to watch Hicks’ video.

  • This Monday, the history of corn and soybean markets will change. After being traded on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade for 124 years, the yelling and screaming to buy and sell ag commodities futures contracts will go silent as the Exchange switches to all electronic trading. The agricultural options contracts will remain traded on the floor, with a physical location change within the CME Group Exchange building scheduled for September, according to CME officials.Open outcry volume has decreased by 75% since 2008. This year, open outcry futures contracts now make up only 1% of the company’s business. The S&P 500 Standard Futures pit, which continues to provide an important venue for trading the underlying futures contract for the S&P 500 options on futures contract, will remain open, as will all options pits in both locations except for the DJIA ($10) and NASDAQ 100 options, according to the CME Group press release.In addition, in Chicago, all options pits will be located on a single floor in the company’s Financial Room by September.A QUICK HISTORYThe Chicago Board of Trade Exchange opened in 1848. Corn, wheat, and oats open outcry futures started trading in 1877. Soybean open outcry futures opened in 1936.Though it’s not a swift change for traders and customers, the 12-decade tradition of farm markets is creating a nostalgic reflection from some floor traders.Matt Pierce, Futures International LLC floor trader at the CME Group Exchange, says though it won’t change his job dramatically, he respects the history of the industry.“This has been a long-time coming. Though depressing to see an era end, it's time,” Pierce says. Scott Shellady, TJM Investments senior vice president and CME Group floor trader, says that it’s important to understand the reality of the floor closing.“The real story here is that while we don't need stocks and bonds to live, we do need food. And, by going all electronic, we have basically turned over sustenance to the cloud with the algorithmic traders and high-frequency programmers. Electronic trading and technology may still be in its infancy, and arguably we are in the Wild, Wild West. I think that is the danger and the real underlying story,” Shellady says. CLOSURE IMPACTWhile the media want to make a big deal of the closing of the pits that started the CBOT, it’s important to note that wheat, soybeans, and corn will still be traded, just electronically, Shellady says. “It is like a furniture store no longer making furniture by hand and using machines. Yes, there are some displaced workers, but 95% of them have left already,” Shellady says.Pierce sees the impact of the futures pit closing as minimal. “I’m almost all options so the close doesn't affect me. From the brokerage side, it's a minimal change at best. Old-school guys will be forced to retire or find a new career. If you had any foresight and moved to options, you are OK. I will just move to the new room and expand my coverage for clients into hogs, cattle, and other CME products,” Pierce says. It is important for the public to know that the decision to go electronic is a customer-based one – not an exchange one, the traders say. “The floor population has obviously dwindled, but there is no way to tell how many new electronic customers have taken their place somewhere in cyberspace,” Shellady says.  Shellady adds, “While I have seen an exchange convert to all electronic (I was in London on the LIFFE when it went all electronic in 1997 – 18 years ago), I am not afraid of the change, nor will it alter my daily routine too much. We are moving the open outcry options pits into the financial room over the next few months. That is the change – for the time being.”

  • By July 20, the U.S. flag will once again fly over the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday. As the two nations restore official diplomatic relations broken in 1961, Cuba will also have an embassy in Washington.This step in the thaw between two long-estranged neighbors coincides with a trip to Cuba last week by leaders of the National Corn Growers Association, the U.S. Grains Council, and the North Dakota Barley Council.“Cuba could be a growing market for U.S. corn, but our own policies are standing in the way,” said USGC Chairman Ron Gray. “A major lesson from this trip was that the embargo has created an environment where our competitors such as Brazil dominate the market. If policy allowed us to help develop the Cuban market, we might be able to retake our dominant position.”According to previous USGC assessments, Cuba has no broiler production and limited egg production. And, while imports from the U.S. are limited by longstanding policy, a lack of dollars, and credit challenges, the Cuban government wants its agriculture sector to grow. In addition, the Cuban people and foreign tourists could demand more meat products in their diet as the country’s economy improves.Cuba is trying to revive its own struggling agricultural economy. Under the leadership of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, who took over running the government in 2008, some 4.25 million acres of idle land have been distributed to 200,000 people. Earlier this week the Cuban government reported 5.7% growth in livestock production in the first quarter of 2015 compared to a year earlier.Last winter, shortly after the Obama administration announced plans to ease relations between the two nations, NCGA estimated that Cuba could become the 12th-largest export market for U.S. corn if trade is truly open. NCGA said the total market for corn in Cuba is 35.4 million bushels, along with another 150,000 tons of distillers' grains. That’s a relatively small market, slightly more than total corn production from the state of Delaware last year and less than 1% of the 14.5 billion-bushel national production. With the exception of the DDGS market dominated by the U.S., the share of American corn exports to Cuba has been declining, not growing. According to NCGA, “The United States has sold corn to Cuba each marketing year since the early 2000s and distillers' dried grains with solubles since 2005. U.S. corn market share has varied, running as high as 100% in the 2007/2008 marketing year but as low as 15% in recent years due to regulatory changes that made achieving financing more challenging.”A report last month by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service confirms the decline in sales for many U.S. commodities.“The U.S. share of the Cuban market has slipped dramatically, from a high of 42% in FY [fiscal year] 2009 to only 16% in FY 2014.  The United States is now Cuba’s third-largest supplier, after the European Union and Brazil. U.S. exports have also become much less diversified, with poultry and soybean meal accounting for the lion’s share of trade last year. During the first six months of FY 2015, exports are down 40% compared to the same period the previous year, and have reached the lowest level since FY 2003.”The U.S. has lost its once dominant rice export market in Cuba, with its traditional rice and beans now supplied by Vietnam and Brazil.“For corn, Argentina and Brazil were the two largest exporters to Cuba in FY 2014, while the United States was third with exports valued at $28 million. The United States was Cuba’s largest corn supplier from FY 2002-2012. U.S. market share reached 64% in FY 2012 but has since declined to just 14% in FY 2014,” the report said.If the U.S. takes more steps to ease trade restrictions to Cuba, FAS sees much more potential for not only regaining market share but increasing U.S. exports.“Both USDA analysis and a study conducted by Texas A&M University for the American Farm Bureau Federation indicate that the full liberalization of trade with Cuba would create new opportunities for U.S. agricultural exports. The lifting of restrictions on travel and capital flow, and the ability for USDA to conduct market development and credit guarantee programs in Cuba, would enhance U.S. export competitiveness, drive Cuban demand for U.S. agricultural products, and help the U.S. recapture market share,” the report says.The report points out that Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean in terms of both area and population (at just over 11 million). According to IHS, Inc., which compiles data for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Cuba’s gross domestic product will increase 2.7% in 2015 (to $87.1 billion) and will continue to grow through 2021. The rising GDP will lead to higher incomes and an expanding middle class, which, in turn, will lead to increased consumption of meat, dairy products, and processed foods, of which the U.S. is a competitive supplier.USGS chairman Gray is even more optimistic – if U.S. policy changes.“We have an opportunity to work with the Cuban people to build their industries and, at the same time, build demand for our grain,” Gray said. “The council has used this model all over the world, and it’s clear that type of engagement could now also work in Cuba given the right conditions.”