Manager's Corner

September 30, 2015 02:13 AM

By Nate Birt

USDA Data Reveal Amber Waves of Specialty Grains This Year

In addition to corn, soybeans and wheat, U.S. producers farm a substantial amount of other grains. The following chart identifies several of the largest contenders and how acreage has changed, ranked from most acreage gained to least. Production values are from crops harvested in 2014.

Source: USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service

By Nate Birt

Fed Cattle Prices Ride Lower on Commodity Price Volatility

Row-crop producers understand the economics of commodity prices better than just about anyone. Yet cattle feeders and other livestock operators dependent on grain for feed are also riding the ebb and flow of corn and soybean prices. That’s according to Jerry Gulke, president of The Gulke Group and a Top Producer columnist.

“Feeder cattle hit a top at about $220 (per cwt) in June and July, mainly in June, then started trailing lower,” Gulke told Farm Journal Radio after the release of USDA’s Sept. 11 reports. 

The challenge for feeder-cattle producers is determining how to turn a profit amid rocky commodity price moves and falling live cattle prices, even as the animal is unmoved from the lot. 

“My dad raised cattle, and he was an eternal optimist,” he says. “Very seldom did we buy feeder cattle that we could lock in a profit. We thought we could make money at the other end by the time the critter was fat. Once you buy feeder cattle, you’re stuck. You’ve got to make it work.” Falling fat cattle prices suggest days of high cattle profits are over for now. 

Mark Your Calendar For Education


Farm Journal Legacy Conference
When: Nov. 17-18
Where: Indianapolis

Executive Women in Agriculture
When: Dec. 3-4
Where: Chicago

Top Producer Seminar
When: Jan. 27-29, 2016
Where: Chicago

TPEN Signature Event (open to members only)
When: Feb. 8-10, 2016
Where: St. Pete Beach, Fla.  


Correction: Because of an editing error, Jerry Gulke’s column on page 64 of the September issue incorrectly identified the scope of corn production estimates. The range of corn yield estimates could fail to account for up to 640 million bushels of total production. Top Producer regrets the error.

By John Phipps


Robots Won’t Take Your Job For Now 

Last month, after reviewing a bleak prediction of how robots and automation would affect employment for people, I promised a countering view in this debate. I almost found one. “The Second Machine Age” outlines robots’ startling inroads and struggles to balance that with hope that technology will add more jobs than it destroys.

Yet even these noted economists essentially rely on that single defense: That’s the way it’s worked out before. They mostly end up saying not all the jobs disappear because 1) wages are too low in many sectors to make robots pay (yay?) and 2) the change will probably take decades. Constantly evaluate what you can do that machines can’t. The answer, as they meticulously detail, is often much less than you think. 

The authors also offer several sound policy recommendations that in today’s fact-free political environment probably have a 30 second half-life: spending on infrastructure, guaranteed income, VAT, etc. In short, if you’re looking for good news about future jobs, this might be as good as it gets. And it’s not very. 

By Nate Birt


How Antibiotic-Free Production Affects Farmer Costs

The pork industry stands to reap substantial revenue from sales of antibiotic-free (AF) meat, but only if consumer demand grows substantially, a new simulation from researchers at the University of California, Davis, shows. The study, shared on farmdocdaily, examined effects on consumers and producers in the hypothetical event of restrictions on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention. It highlights opportunities and risks top operators face in emerging markets.

Demand growth is necessary to offset the higher cost of production and processing required with AF meat, note researchers  Tina Saitone, Richard Sexton and Daniel Sumner. Otherwise, costs leave pork producers in a loss position. “Two percent to 4% [consumer demand] growth is required to mitigate fully income losses to hog producers,” the report states.


Recommended App: Agrowdata

Agrowdata is a subscription-based app from Australia that aggregates and reports commodity pricing data from that country and the U.S. Available categories include meat and livestock, grains, oilseeds, fertilizers and dairy. Users can access data both in table and graph forms. The app graphs historical data from the past year and catalogs price data for multiple commodities, providing users with the option to compare prices from two commodities in a graph. The app includes converter calculators for currencies, volume and grain weight. In table form, the app limits price reporting to the past two weeks for cash markets. For more information, visit 

By the Numbers: Farm Income

-36% likely year-over-year decline in net farm income 

$195 B expected cash receipts from crops in 2015

$11.4 B expected government payments, up 16.3% from this past year

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