Communicating with Lenders: Suggestions for Farmers & Ranchers

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The last few years have been tough for many farmers, feeders and ranchers due to a cost-price squeeze. I reviewed the 2015 Nebraska Farm Business INC financial standards measures. Average 2015 Net Farm Income was $51,293 which doesn’t sound terrible until you get deeper into the numbers. The farms are broken into 10 equal groups, deciles, ranked by Net Farm Income. The bottom four deciles of farms were unprofitable with the lowest decile averaging -$109,508 net farm income. At the beginning of 2016, the bottom three deciles had negative working capital with the lowest decile averaging -$244,880. The numbers above and the current cost-price squeeze will probably worsen the financial position of additional farms and ranches. Fortunately equity has increased for many farms and ranches and that can be used to shore up current lending needs. Communicating with lenders  will be an important activity over the next months. Here are suggestions for that conversation’s success.

  • Always be upfront about the exact situation, sooner rather than later. Be frank about what your financials are but don’t talk with the lender constantly.
  • Make sure that all your financial documents are accurate. Include all machinery leases or outside lending listed on the correct financial documents. Consider producing a farm and personal balance sheet including credit cards on the balance sheet.
  • Do your own cash flow projections for 2017 now. A cash flow projections allows you to discuss your needs with your lender. The process of making a cash flow projection can be very illuminating to operators. The cash flow projection can guide marketing plans as well. Update the cash flow periodically during the growing season and share the update with your lender.
  • Explore marketing plans, write one and implement it. Again marketing plans should be flexible as new information comes forward. Again share your marketing plan with your lender.

The foregoing suggestions show a borrower that is proactive and forward-looking which is a very positive asset that lenders want to see. Be proactive!

October Crop Production Report

The October 12 Crop Production report had a negative reaction in the grains market just after its release but the markets have rebounded since. Let’s take a deeper look at the numbers that what was covered in the initial news reports.

Planted corn acreage was updated in 10 objective yield states (IL, IA, KS, MN, NE, OH, SD, WI). The changes increased acreage by 0.3% from the previous report and +7.5% from last year. Corn yield was lowered by 1 bu/acre nationally or -0.6%. Total productions was lowered 0.2% from the previous report, however corn production is still projected at +10.7% from last year. total production is projected at 15.1 billion bushels which would be 900 million bushels higher than the largest corn crop in 2014. Seven new record yields are projected, including Iowa and Illinois where about half of the US corn crop is produced. The US yield, 173.4 bu/ acre would be a record as well Nebraska’s corn yield is projected to be  181 bu/acre which is 3 bu lower than the previous report.

Soybean acreage was updated as well in the October WASDE report but the change was less than +0.1% compared to September’s report. The expected soybean acreage is 1.6% higher than last year. The big change was in projected yield, 1.6% higher than the previous report and 7.1% more than last year. The 2016 US soybean yield is projected at 51.4bu/acre and would be a record. The higher yield comes from much better pod set than in other years.All of this yields to a record high total soybean production of 4.27 billion bu, 314 million bu more than the highest production.Eleven states are expected to have record yields including Nebraska, 61, bu/acre.

Late Season Corn Disease: time to scout!

Reports are coming forward of various disease problems in this year’s corn crop. Some of these diseases include ear rot, anthracnose and stalk rots. Wet warm late season weather can increase the possibility of stalk and ear diseases and worsen any already present. Now is the time to scout fields to determine which may have problems. Farmers may decide to harvest fields with stalk rot earlier to avoid loss. They may also look for varieties that are more resistant to stalk rots when buying next year’s seed, especially in fields that have a history of problems.

Several links are included below which cover current year disease reports in the Corn Belt as well as background on ways to identify and manage the problems.

http://cropwatch.unl.edu/stalk-and-ear-rot-diseases-developing-early-few-fields

http://cropwatch.unl.edu/plantdisease/corn/bacterial-stalk-rot

http://cropwatch.unl.edu/plantdisease/corn/fusarium-stalk-rot

http://crops.extension.iastate.edu/cropnews/2016/09/scout-now-ear-rots

SAMPLE AND TEST HAY BEFORE WINTER FEEDING

How will you know how much protein and energy your cows will get when you start feeding your hay and silage?  Or how much supplement to feed?  Find out by following instructions for sampling and testing.

Correct sampling techniques, followed by lab tests of forage quality, are necessary for cattle producers who want to get the most value from their forages and profit from their animals.

Maybe the most important step in sampling hay, and sometimes the most difficult step, is deciding which bales and stacks should be included in each sample.  Ideally, each sample should include only bales that were produced under nearly identical conditions.

Obviously, the place to start grouping is to separate different types of hay, like alfalfa or CRP or corn stalk or meadow hay.  But each cutting of hay probably is different from the other cuttings also, so there is another separation.  And no two fields or meadows are ever exactly the same, especially if they were cut more than two days apart, so that makes another grouping.  And what if part of the field was rained on before it was baled?  The hay made without rain damage probably will be different from hay with rain damage.

After you’ve made all these separations, which could result in quite a few groups of similar bales, then and only then are you ready to sample.  From each group gather a dozen or more cores from different bales or stacks and combine them into one sample.  Be sure to use a good hay probe that can core into at least one foot of the bale.

Finally, send these samples to a certified lab for tests of energy content and protein, maybe nitrates, and any other nutrients of interest to you.

Then use this information to feed your cattle as profitably as possible.

Bruce Anderson, U of Nebraska Forage Specialist

 

Refinancing the Farm or Ranch

Situation

One of the concerns that has become obvious to many in agriculture is the rapid reduction in working capital the past few months. Operating loans for 2016 may not be paid off after harvest, especially with the rapid decline in grain prices since mid-June 2016. Refinancing or rolling forward the remainder of the operating loan is going to be an option for many farms and ranches. A lender may ask for more collateral to do the roll however or indicate there is enough to cover the additional debt. But rolling operating notes forward is a warning sign for farm and ranch operators. Why?

The incomplete payment of a current operating loan reflects a problem that farmers have experienced during the current growing season, a severe cost price squeeze. Simply rolling the debt to the next year and collateralizing it with machinery or land or cattle does not address the underlying cause. Not addressing the problem can lead to future outstanding operating loans and more debt to carry in the future. The remedy is to address the current cash flow problem.

Cash Flow Shortfall Solutions

There appears to be three cost areas that farmers and ranchers must address. Cash Rent rates are the first to deal with as these are being determined at this time. At least for the medium term, grain prices are not going to increase significantly above current numbers unless some dramatic occurrence takes place, e.g. a drought or a war. So cash rental rates need to match the income reality of the next few years.

Family living draw has increased in farm country since the ethanol boom began in 2006. In Nebraska, farm family living draw, not including taxes, doubled from 2004 to 2013 which was its peak. Since than in each of 2014 and 2015 family living draw declined by 4%. Some family living costs have increased since than which are hard to reduce such as health care and insurance and college costs. But family living will need to decline or added debt will be incurred without additional income.

Crop input costs must also be considered as well. This is the season when suppliers begin to offer pre-payment and booking incentives. How much have those prices declined since last year? Reports I have gathered indicate not much certainly compared to income from corn and soybeans. Farmers will need to indicate to suppliers their unwillingness to pay those prices before input prices are likely to drop. Don’t let emotion drive your input decision either. Products are available claiming better control or availability of an input. Farmers and ranchers should request unbiased research that shows a positive cost-benefit to the use of any input. With that research, they can analyze whether to use and how much of a product to use. Testimonials are not useful to make that cost-benefit analysis.

And then income can also be managed. Have a marketing plan and implement that plan. Of course farmers should not follow it blindly if some new information comes out which changes supply–demand of grains. At that point adjust the marketing plan. Robert Wisner, retired Iowa State University grains economist, related some of his research from more than a decade ago which showed that US corn farmers sold two-thirds of corn at a price less than the marketing year average price. Michael Swanson, Wells Fargo Chief Agricultural Economist, made the same point recently. Minnesota farmers sold the 2015 corn crop 6 cents per bushels less than the Minnesota average corn price. Most likely emotion drove farmers to wait for higher prices and eventually sell at below average prices. Following a marketing plan removes some of the emotion and can lead to more predictable income.

Summary

A proactive approach to managing the current cost-price squeeze dilemma is the way forward to improve sustainability. Farm and ranch managers have some control of the costs and income they can expect from their farm or ranch. Careful cost control, using marginal analysis, in all areas of production must be implemented first to improve cash flow. Marketing plans can have the effect of removing emotion from the selling decision and thus avoiding poor decision-making. Farms and ranches with high leverage are most at risk in the next few years and will need careful management to pull through. After those strategies are implemented, rolling current operating loans forward has a much better chance of being successful.

References:

Schnitkey, G. “The Danger of Refinancing.” farmdoc daily (6):164, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, August 30, 2016.

Swanson, M. “ True Farmers Never Sell a Rally.” https://wholesale.wf.com/food_for_thought/true-farmers-never-sell-a-rally/?contact-type=e&elqTrackId=dcac80eb4e684bc8977eb3b76e2bddad&elq=86e73390d8bc4e2d8c04ac217725a456&elqaid=9465&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=6120, Accessed 1 Sept 2016.

Wow What a WASDE!

The last few days have had the WASDE August 16 report released and a few days later I attended the Midwest-Great Plains Ag Outlook /conference in Des Moines IA. Many of us have heard the headlines from the WASDE report predicting the US largest corn and soybean crop on record. US corn yields are projected at 175.1 bushels (BU)/acre (A) for a 15.153 billion (b) bu crop. Both the size and yield were higher than the highest trade estimate. The same happened with the soybean estimates in WASDE, 4.060 bbu with 48.9 bu/A. Both are higher than trade estimates like the corn trade. Sounding like a broken record, milo followed the same pattern with WASDE beating trade estimates projecting 0.475 bbu total with 66.2 bu/A, both higher than analyst estimates.

Last year’s crops were not the largest on record leading to slightly lower corn ending stocks however soybean ending stocks did rise. Ending stocks for both corn and soybeans are projected to increase after the 2016 crop is harvested. Corn ending stocks are projected to be over 16% and soybean stocks 8% of use. That compares to last year’s ending stocks of 12% for corn and 6.5% for soybeans. The expected increase will over hang corn and soybean prices for some time, until some kind of news, lower yields or higher exports or problems with other country’s grain production, would change the supply/demand calculation. At this point however there are no big news items that could change our grains market to one that is bullish.

So what was the consensus, as if there really is such a thing, or my perception of it, at the Midwest-Great Plains Outlook conference? Except for a few areas of crop problems in Ohio and Michigan, crops are in very good shape and are likely to perform very close to the high yields that USDA and other crop yield modelers have calculated. No significant disease or insect problems were reported. The discussion led eventually to marketing, storage and transportation of the Fall 16 crop. We already know some portion of the winter wheat crop is stored on the ground which will likely lead to loss of quality and quantity. That wheat will probably end up in feed. The US wheat stocks are projected to be 47% of use by crop marketing end while world wheat stocks are projected to be only 35% of use. That is some good news for wheat but stocks of world wheat are up even though use is projected to be up. Use is projected up for the US wheat crop and still stocks are projected to increase. The same situation is going on in corn and soybeans. So then another question is about transportation. Railroad companies are telling university crop economists that they are ready for the anticipated large fall crop. Coal shipments are lower than in previous years freeing up rolling stock to move grain more expeditiously in the past. That is good news for farmers who can anticipate that Fall 16 basis may not be as low as would have been.

What are farmers to do when marketing such a big crop? Many will be convinced to store rather than sell at or near harvest. Big crops tend to have poor carry and thus storage may not gain enough to pay for itself. In planning post harvest crop marketing, farmers must consider the carry that is offered. If the carry is less than the cost of storage, the market is telling you to sell sooner rather than later which would mean less money for the crop in the future due to storage costs.

Managing Cow/Calf Hay Costs

One widely adopted hay making technology is the round bale. In 1892 the first stationary round baler was built and Allis Chalmers building the first moving round baler with a pickup in 1947. Two other types of baler followed in 1970 and 1972. The first was a ground rolled bale but the 1972 baler built by Vermeer had a bale chamber and a pickup in front. Many companies followed so that 15 or so were selling round balers by 1975. Round bales are convenient for hay making, feeding, transport and storage. But there are some limitations farmers and ranchers must be aware of. Round bales stored and fed outside can have as much as 50% loss. But if stored and fed inside that loss can be as low as 5-15%. Let’s take a look at the worst case example to illustrate just how costly high hay losses can be.

 

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef website, beef.unl.edu, includes some representative budgets which include feed use with losses estimated at 15%. So actual intake of the amounts listed will be 85% of the hay amount listed. I will use the 2015 Central Nebraska budget as my example. With feed losses for hay set at 50%, ranchers would need. 0.31 tons more hay for cows and 0.47 tons more hay for 2 year olds. At $80 per ton for meadow hay, the additional hay needed with 50% loss adds $26.40 to feed cows and $37.40 to feed 2 year olds. A typical 300 cow herd, 84% mature cows and 16% 2-year olds, would spend $6652 for mature cows and $1795 more for 2-year olds, total $8847 more in hay due to high hay losses.

 

The next question then becomes where on this typical ranch the losses are occurring. Recommendations for storage loss reduction are in a Beef website article: http://beef.unl.edu/minimizing-storage-and-feeding-losses-round-bale-hay which shows where the losses occur and how to reduce them in storage. Another publication for the University of Missouri discusses ways to reduce feeding losses: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G4570. These are good resources to utilize when looking for the hay losses on a ranch but when implementing those strategies calculate the cost of implementation. If the implementation costs are more than reduced feed costs, implementing those strategies would make the ranch worse off financially.