Sep 23, 2014
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April 2014 Archive for Inputs Insights

RSS By: Davis Michaelsen, Pro Farmer

Inputs Monitor Editor Davis Michaelsen adds his perspective into the happenings of the inputs markets.

State-by-State Nutrient Charts YTD Part 1: Nitrogen

Apr 25, 2014


This week's blog lets the charts do the talking in the first installment of a three part chart series. We start with nitrogen. Our survey includes anhydrous ammonia, UAN28%, UAN32% and urea, charted by each state since the first of 2014. The following charts are divided into three groups -- southern, central and northern states, and each group includes a chart of our 12 state average for comparison.

As of this week, we are 100% filled on spring and summer nutrient with 50% yet to go on summer farm diesel and 100% of fall/winter propane to cover. We are waiting on fuels to come our way later this summer. Next week we will feature P&K charts for the same period of time and part 3 will cover farm diesel and propane.

The southern region includes Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri and these three states often act as indicators of pricing movements ahead. (Nebraska typically enjoys pricing very similar to that of Kansas, and so I include the 'technically western state' with our southern region.) I have written that southern growers have had a bit of an advantage when it comes to fertilizer prices because the application season begins before areas north are fully thawed.

That limits the influence of supply side shortages on price. So far this year, Kansas has boasted the lowest NH3 pricing by a mile when compared to northern states, but the statewide average there has risen back above the $600/ton mark as applications are now well underway -- weather permitting.


The central region includes Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Progress has been slow to take off in many areas of our central region and more rain and cooler temps are in the forecast for the coming week.

The farther we get from Kansas, the higher we see prices pegged. This becomes very evident when compared to the northern region, but the central region is also generally priced higher than Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.



The northern region has some of the widest price ranges in our survey. The region includes The Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Between Minnesota and Michigan, this week's average NH3 price varies by $171.34 by the ton. That is a significant difference for two states within the same region.

Progress has been limited thus far, but once the weather lends a hand, growers have proven they can put seed into the ground in a hurry. Unfortunately, by the time progress begins, the early inputs purchases have generally forced resupply at higher prices, and if distribution or supply side problems emerge, the north will bear the brunt of price increases. Forward booking inputs is most vital in northern territories.



Next week, we will chart P&K prices in the same way, and the following week we will look at farm diesel and propane with an eye toward the summer outlook. On fertilizers, we see very little keeping a lid on prices and we expect increasing retail prices across the board -- except for maybe potash -- for the remainder of the spring and summer season.




Crude Oil Shipments Slow Ag Deliveries: Transcript from AgriTalk 4/16/14

Apr 19, 2014


I had a great conversation with Mike Adams on AgriTalk this week. The topic was rail -- more specifically, the implications of a rail system increasingly seen by the agricultural community as shipping crude oil preferentially at the expense of agricultural product delivery and takeaway. We discuss what BNSF has decided to do in the face of high demand from crude operations as fertilizer demand adds pressure to shipping.

Our blessings have outrun our transport system in America, and the issue leads Mike and I to corn prices, planting progress and a range of potential peripheral impacts reminiscent of 2013'-14's propane distribution crisis. A complete transcript of our conversation follows. Listen to the audio below.

Mike Adams: Joining us now is Davis Michaelsen Associate Editor for Pro Farmer Inputs Monitor as we take a look at the struggle over rail service. Davis, thanks for joining us. I first started hearing about this from ethanol plants saying they couldn't get the rail service they needed to move the ethanol out and now we're seeing it grow into other areas of concern as well and a lot of it being portrayed as ag versus oil. Many in the ag community feeling the oil industry gets preferential treatment from the railroads. Is there anything to that?

Davis Michaelsen: It's hard to say Mike and it was a tough winter and remember the problems that we had moving propane around the country during the wintertime. A lot of that fell because of lagging pipeline infrastructure and the same is true of crude pipeline infrastructure although, shipments of crude by rail have increased significantly. In 2008, the Association of American Railroads reports about 9,500 carloads of U.S. crude oil was shipped via rail. In 2013 that number ballooned to 407,642 carloads of crude oil. So that's quite a significant increase just over a short period of time.

Adams: So those numbers tell you obviously the oil industry is tying up more of the railroad service so whether its meant to be preferential treatment or not just the volume is going to have an impact.

Michaelsen: Well that's exactly right and where the rubber meets the road really is up in the northern parts of the Midwest here. We heard from a North Dakota farm group leader who claims that they've got about 85% of the crop still in storage there and they can't seem to get enough rail cars to take away that crop and its starting to raise concerns over what happens at harvest. If there's too much grain in storage and it doesn't really have the rail support to take it away in the meantime... we are going to have a hard time storing it if we get a nice sized crop we're going to have tough time with storage.

Adams: And what about even delivery of maybe fertilizer shipments this spring?

Michaelsen: We;; BNSF reported last week that they, earlier this week actually that they intend to take moves to expedite fertilizers because they understand guys gotta have this stuff this time of year and so they're putting in some new measures. Handling unit fertilizers similar to that of grain shuttles, they're going to be able to service customers more easily with rapid load and unload capabilities. And so they are really trying to reach out and make sure that these fertilizer deliveries get to where they go.

Adams: Ya, this week the U.S. Surface Transportation Board issued a decision regarding freight rail service delays affecting North Dakota. That decision ordered Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF Railway to report to the Surface Transportation Board by the end of this week their plans to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments for the spring planting season and also to provide weekly status reports including delivery data and the number of cars associated with ag destinations. So is this a sign that at least the powers that be are taking this seriously?

Michaelsen: I believe so and, gosh I tell ya if farmers are unable to get a crop in the ground because of transport issues, that really sets us back. Ya know they are having just as much trouble up in Canada as well though they've got that bumper crop to move out from last year and they've got their own oil they want to ship so the industry is definitely going to have to start taking this seriously, and I believe with BNSF's announcement that they are going to dedicate a ton of money next year to infrastructure improvements, I think that's going to help out quite a bit.

Adams: This would not seem to be a short term problem though, I mean that oil boom is probably going to continue for a while so that demand for rail is going to be there and the farming season is just going to get busier do you see getting resolved anytime soon or is this going to continue to be a problem?

Michaelsen: Mike bumper crops are a blessing and a curse we've got so much oil so many resources that we've been blessed with that its really outrun our ability to transport it effectively from place to place. Now add to that increased agricultural demand for petroleum products, propane and things like that. Over the summertime you add to that Canadian rail problems getting nitrogen down here because they are shipping too much grain and crude around. We're kinda tied up in a knot here and its going to take awhile to get us untied.

Adams: And as I mentioned, we've certainly seen the impact on the ethanol industry as it has slowed their ability to move product.

Michaelsen: Yes it really has, and we've seen even some soybean plants around that just can't take any more because they simply don't have the takeaway capability.

Adams: Davis, doesn't this just point to the bigger picture here, we have infrastructure issues in this country that need to be addressed.

Michaelsen: Agreed. I tell ya what, ya know pipeline is a great idea however, it just can't get the product there fast enough. If you're transporting oil from the Bakken in North Dakota its gonna take about a week by rail to get it down to the Gulf Coast so refiners can use it or it can be sent out for export. It takes about 40 days for oil to make the same trip by pipeline. So rail is a much quicker way to expedite these supplies, but a bottleneck isn't doing anybody any good here on the grain side.

Adams: Well we've heard concerns for a number of years from those in agriculture about rail availability as well as costs and it doesn't sound like the situation is going to get a lot better anytime soon.

Michaelsen: No I'm afraid not and really what else is putting pressure on this is increased corn prices. If we are looking ahead to expected new-crop revenue, ya know we're up above that 750 dollar mark which is break even for a lotta guys. That's gonna bring in some fresh fertilizer demand when they had actually expected it to be low; we may have expected shipping delays anyway at this point on just unexpected heavy demand for P&K.

Adams: We're talking with Davis Michaelsen, Associate Editor for Pro Farmer Inputs Monitor, Davis, we're sitting here just kind of waiting as we've been talking about on the show today waiting for the weather to break and really the planting season to take off. Do we have the inputs in place already for when that happens or are we going to see a backlog?

Michaelsen: Well I've heard varying reports we've got some spot shortages I heard from over in Indiana last week that they couldn't get potash from their rail head and they were just going to have to wait -- probably two to three weeks. I backed that up with a phone call to a buddy of mine in Oklahoma who's into the importing business and distribution and he says as quickly as they are getting cargoes in they're going out the door. So there's definitely high demand here for fertilizers. Some places already have plenty on hand, others places are going to have a trick getting it.

Adams: And of course, as the way it usually works out, everybody wants it at the same time right?

Michaelsen: Well that's exactly right. We positioned Inputs Monitor readers early in March on anhydrous in particular. Now we saw some anhydrous rolling here last week here in central Iowa, the weather was nice and warm, it was sunny soil temperatures were up. I went around on Friday, this was on Thursday, on Friday I went around looking for somebody to take a picture of and couldn't find anybody in the field. They were looking ahead to this weekend of rain that we got and wound up with snow on Monday morning when I woke up so we're in stand-down here, and that really may be the best thing that can happen to us so we can have some time to get this fertilizer poisoned before we need to apply it.

Adams: Well here in Illinois I could have taken a picture for you; field right behind my house saw some anhydrous tanks rolling through. I could have taken that one for you yesterday.

Michaelsen: Well movement's been good. Down south in Missouri, we talked about some spot shortages down there in particular, but they're moving right along, and as warm temperatures move north, you know we are going to see those anhydrous tanks rolling through the fields.

Adams: Alright Davis, thanks a lot.

Michaelsen: 'preciate it Mike.



Fertilizer & Fuels Summer Outlook

Apr 11, 2014

A little anhydrous has been rolling in our neck of the woods in the last few days, but there is still a lot of ground to cover, especially the farther north one travels. My local coop is filling anhydrous tanks as fast as they can and as the spring application is underway, we look ahead to summer and what late spring prices will hold for northern growers.


We expect southern fertilizer purchases to give clues as to what is ahead as fertilizer demand moves northward and this week notes a $50 increase in Kansas anhydrous ammonia. At the same time, however, urea and UAN solutions are running out of upside steam. This week we observed fertilizer moving higher across the board, but fuels are coming our way, both LP and farm diesel moved lower on the week.

That comes on the heels of EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook which predicts gasoline to peak in May at a national average of $3.66, and then fall through 2015 as led by declines in crude oil, which is also expected lower for that period. We look for farm diesel to act as it has in the past and follow crude oil. Trends suggest farm diesel will continue lower through the rest of the month and level off in May with the possibility of more downside action in midsummer. I'm targeting $3.35/gallon in May, but that feels a little high. We will fill farm diesel as we find opportunities.


Whether or not LP will fully retrace the winter spike remains to be seen, but this week the regional average falls below the $2.00 mark to $1.94. That gives us reason for optimism here. We booked 2013 propane in July at $1.25/gallon and will look for similar pricing levels at that time this year. As I said, we are very optimistic that the price action over the winter has done little permanent damage, and prices should fall back in line, indeed, they are already making good progress on that course.

Our suggestion is the same as that of the propane industry... be prepared for more of the same next winter. Forward book ample supplies for both agricultural use and home heat, and consider increasing your storage capacity. At this point, we look to July and will pull the trigger when the market indicates it has bottomed.

 As unkind as anhydrous ammonia was last year, the opposite is true this year and prices havePicture3 been very sticky at the low end of the two-year range. We have heard scattered reports of spot shortages due to transport constraints, and anhydrous trucks have been seen skidding into supply depots at all hours. Northern growers may get the short end of the stick here as NH3 is currently priced roughly $80.00/ton below what December corn futures would say.

We look for anhydrous to continue higher through the application season and some areas may find spot shortages, leading to price increases. Our suggestion is to front book now if you have not already to guard against price hikes. Our expectation is for anhydrous to top out at a regional average of somewhere around $760/ton. But that is an average of prices that vary as much as $175/ton between Kansas and Michigan.


UAN solutions will get the call if spring weather either prevents fieldwork or flushes N. If demand spikes at sidedress, prices will likely respond higher. National supplies are in reasonably good shape and, according to sources, there is plenty of N to be had. If spring weather cooperates, UAN demand will lag last year's, and strong supplies may lead to price breaks after a brief continuation of this week's upside move. In that event, we see UAN28% priced at $360/ton and UAN32% at $390 in June. But cantankerous weather could excite demand which could add another $50.00 in demand premium by then.

Urea will continue its global oversupply thanks to strong manufacturing out of China. Urea led the nitrogen recovery and prices continued higher this week. However, importers reported to your Monitor this week that urea cargoes were bought as quickly as they could bring them in suggesting strong spring demand. The upwardPicture4 trajectory has slowed considerably, and by the margins, urea is much more expensive than anhydrous. Either anhydrous needs to correct higher to realign the margins or urea has to fall considerably. The most likely scenario is a little of both.

Look for Chinese product to hold the global market in a strong supply situation, limiting prices through summer. Trends suggest urea will continue higher in the short term but may fall back below $500/ton after the spring season on plentiful supplies.

Phosphate demand was expected to come in low this year as expected new-crop revenue fell with December futures. We've got Dec. corn back around the $5.00 range and if that level appears sustainable to growers, demand for Phosphate will increase. However, in anticipation of low demand and in response to increased production in India, domestic production has slowed slightly and current North American inventories are low compared to lastPicture7 year and the five-year average. If growers decide to apply more P&K than early intentions suggested, the increased demand could bottleneck supplies in a rail system that is already having some real problems.

If that increases DAP/MAP prices too much, growers will pass or cut back as much as they can. Under current market conditions, trends suggest DAP/MAP will likely swing back above $600/ton. But if phosphate gets too bullish, it will price itself out of end-users' budgets.

Last but not least, potash. Potash and anhydrous have both stayed well below the dictates of expected new-crop revenue and while that injects some upside suspicion for NH3, this is potash being potash. Like phosphate, suppliers have been expecting a demand cut due to low corn prices, and that has helped limit prices. But North American inventories are very strong here and that will go a long ways toward limiting price. There is the question of rail constraints however, and since most of the potash used in the U.S. comes out of Canada, supplies may be slow to make it to retail locations.Picture6

An Indiana grower told the Monitor late last week that his supplier had told him he is having trouble getting potash from the local rail head. The extent of similar problems is unknown, but our expectation is for potash to trundle higher with limited upside potential. Strong inventories are expected to place prices below $500/ton regionally by harvest.

Strong upside potential for anhydrous and the possibility of UAN price spikes on late season demand are our red flags in this report. Phosphate is right up there and wholesale increases in ammonia feedstock could easily run P higher on the double-time. We are 100% filled on phosphate and ammonia for spring applications and are leaving 20% to gamble for price cuts in urea, UAN and potash. Fuels are headed lower and farm diesel should bottom in the next few weeks. We will top off a portion then, but summertime often brings another downside swing for ruby red, and we will look to book portions along the way.

Nutrient moved higher across the board this week and as applications are underway down south, and even close to home here in central Iowa, demand will play a greater role along with transport costs. If all goes according to plan, we will see mild increases through the remainder of the application season with the possibility for latecomers to catch prices on their way back down.


Mamas, Please Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys

Apr 04, 2014


Market Rally Radio featured Farm Journal's Greg Henderson on the show Wednesday and the conversation spurred quite the exchange on twitter. The comment that got everybody stirred up was wondering who is going to be the next generation of cattle producers, and what will it take to turn cropland back to pasture.3551047142 78e6d283b8 m

I grew up on a half section in Grundy County, Iowa and I remember as a boy, riding my pony through the maze of hayfields, hog pastures and wide waterways. We weren't cattle producers but my dad ran up to as many as 300 ewes each year with some of the earliest market ready weanling lambs available in this part of the state. Believe me, if there is one thing you can count on, it is that sheep will test your fences.

There were many times when we had to rescue sheep that had gotten their heads lodged in the fence, hoping for greener grass on the other side. On our first pheasant hunting trip in the back 40, grandad spent a lot of time helping me learn to safely climb fences while carrying a shotgun. Later, when I had my own acreage, I took great pride in the fences I built. 52" cattle panel with a line of barbed wire secured tightly to the top rung. Building horse fence is no picnic, but having safe, reliable confinement for livestock is essential.

327362194 4394137223 mBarbed wire was the fence of choice beginning in the late 1800's, but as more of the central U.S. was claimed and fenced, the practice became controversial. Ranchers in the Texas panhandle were quick to erect fences to keep grazers from other operations out, knowing that their grasslands could handle only so much grazing pressure. This angered free graze and cattle drive operations and soon, fences were being cut as a form of protest and to allow cattle to move from one place to another.

This was the wild west at a very volatile point and the range wars enticed vigilantes and violence to the American frontier. In 1884, in response to the fence cutting epidemic, Texas passed a law making it a felony to cut fences.

It is hard not to be nostalgic for the days when a days work was measured in how many fenceposts a man could set before lunch. Agriculture was less polarized between grain farmers and livestock producers and most farms had to keep the cows, pigs and horses out of the cornfields. That is not the case in the present day and in this climate of drought, pasture and rangeland are parched and unproductive, making it hard to feed cattle. Picture1

As economic forces drive more cattle ground toward row crops, rangeland will be converted to cropland, and the old fences that were such an issue to rangers at the turn of the century, pulled up. I have read books lamenting the fencing of the west, usually wondering how the author thought people were supposed to keep their sheep in.

The last few years have seen a runup in corn prices that made cows expensive to feed. The runup ran out on corn in the summer of 2013, but by then herd sizes had dipped and western pastures were parched by the heat and summer sun.

If the fences strung across the prairie marked a revolution in cattle production, the removal of those fences surely is a marker as well. More folks live in town now than ever before and as the divide between rural and urban life widens, the understanding and appreciation for what it takes to produce steaks and hamburgers is lost.

The field of farmers has shrunk, and the way forward for grain production has been forged by large scale operations and corporate farms, and it gets harder for the small scale operator each year. It is possible, probable even, that corporate farming will have to take the place of the family owned operation if young cattle producers continue to exit the business.

1120485301 41ce6af0aa m

For many, nostalgia is the only place the old ways survive today. The practice of rotating livestock through a series of feedlots and pastures on their way to market takes up a lot of space and soil, and current market conditions continue to push growers to maximize land use.

As pastures are tilled and converted to cropland, the nature of cattle production will change as well. Unless we go down the manure road, this has very little to do with fertilizer, but American agriculture is an integrated system of feedstock and kill weights. It is a system that has fed the world with a steady stream of hamburgers, pork chops and, yes, the occasional leg of lamb.10650325713 d83945b556 m

Waylon and Willie called it pretty close when they sang, "Lonestar belt buckles and old faded levis, And each night begins a new day. If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young, He'll prob'ly just ride away." Young cattlemen are 'riding away' and, as it is with all agriculture, the young need to learn the everyday tricks and skills that only a lifetime of animal husbandry can yield. My plea to you livestock producers from poultry to pork is to make succession planning an intentional part of your operation. Mamas, please let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

Boy rides cowdog photo credit: Powerhouse Museum Collection / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Wire sunset photo credit: Steve took it / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Rancher with son photo credit: pixelsrzen / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Young cowboy photo credit: goingslo / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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