SE Minnesota farmers have grain to sell

With the current lower commodity prices and no real significant bump in the short-term forecast, careful planning has become more important than ever for farmers to stay in business.

Balancing lower prices for products farmers produce against the fact that input costs to produce those products haven’t come down yet requires more juggling than in recent seasons. Among some of the more significant costs is land rental, which is squeezing the bottom line of renters all over Minnesota and across the country.

Farmers have grain to sell

Lisa Behnken is a crops specialist with the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester. (Photo from AgriNews.com)

“Boy, is that a difficult one (to control),” said Lisa Behnken, a Crops Specialist at the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. “Rents keep going up and it’s very hard to renegotiate to bring those costs back down. It’s certainly a big part of the equation.

The high costs of renting land may lead to some tough business decisions.   Farmers may shuffle some land around, or even let a particular piece of land go back and not rent it anymore.

“We’ll see if people can do that (make things balance out),” Behnken said, “or if they’re going to let land go and back away from it because they can’t afford that. You may see some land changing hands because of the cost.”

With corn and soybean prices in the tank, are there other opportunities farmers may be looking at for profit? What about small grains?

“It all goes back to where their markets are,” Behnken said. “We have a good group with Extension that do workshops on small grains here in southern Minnesota and a good group of core farmers that grow small grains. They’ve got markets that they’re working with and are locked into.”

She added, “It can be successful, but it’s not just something you’re going to jump into. We don’t have the sell-points here. You need to have convenient places where you’re going to market it to. They don’t buy at every single elevator. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, you just have to get everything in order, from planting it to marketing it.”

Behnken, who received her Master’s Degree in Crop and Weed Sciences from North Dakota State University, said farmers don’t want to be caught with a lot of grain in their bins in the summer and nowhere to take it.

Speaking of grain stuck in bins, farmers in southeast Minnesota still have a lot of grain to move from the 2015 harvest. Low prices at harvest made farmers very reluctant to sell grain that wasn’t forward contracted.

farmers have a lot of grain to sell

While exact numbers aren’t available, Lisa Behnken of the University of Minnesota Extension office in Rochester said there is quite a bit of grain in area bins waiting to be sold. (Photo from brockgrain.com)

“There are definitely crops to be sold,” Behnken said. “Some probably go forward contracted, but farmers don’t forward contract everything. Prices were down at harvest, so farmers didn’t sell right then, so it goes straight in the bin.”

While it’s important for commodity farmers to get their books in order, it’s equally important for livestock producers to watch their costs too, thanks to a recent run of lower prices.

“Cattle prices are softer,” said Behnken, “but the good side of that is they’re feeding animals much cheaper feed. However, they’re end product has also come down in price too.”

Do lower cattle prices mean it’s time for America’s livestock farmers to start expanding the beef herd? She said it all depends on your books and cash flow that your banker sees in those books.

“It’s all about operating money,” Behnken said. “You still have to go to the bank and make this whole thing cash flow. If I’m in the market to buy some feeders, I still have to have the cash to buy those feeders. Even if a farmer is raising his own corn to feed the animals, he still has to have cash necessary to buy the feeders.”

Cash flow. It’s more important than it’s been in many years, and it’ll determine what kind of decisions farmer make this year, and whether or not they stay in business.

“For some, it’s where their debt load is at,” said Behnken. “What’s my percentage of debt? If you have a more solid equity base, that’s a little different than if you’re highly leveraged. Then, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

 

 

 

 

 

Famers assessing their finances for 2016

January is a time when farmers are typically doing paperwork, looking back at 2015 ahead of the upcoming tax season.

What some may find is their books don’t necessarily balance they way they want. The good news is, it’s possible to make better decisions in a difficult Ag economy if you have a clear understanding of where you’re operation is at financially.

Rob Holcomb wants farmers to keep a sharp eye on their finances heading into 2016.

Rob Holcomb is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator, specializing in Ag Business Management over in the Marshall regional office. (Photo from extension.umn.edu)

“What I’m seeing happening right now is people in the habit of doing a FINPACK (software from the Center for Farm Financial Management) analysis,” said Rob Holcomb, Ag Business Educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, “including balance sheets and income statements, are really analyzing what happened in 2015.”

He added, “A lot of people are doing analysis, and unless they’ve got some special circumstances, farm returns are due on March 1.”

Dave Bau is encouraging farmers to get their finances in line.

Dave Bau is a University of Minnesota Extension Educator also specializing in Ag Business Management, and based in the Worthington office.

Looking ahead to 2016, Holcomb said the financial condition on farms is a mixed bag.

“We had people last year that had big trouble managing the tax bill,” Holcomb said. “What led to this challenge was the buildup of $8 per bushel corn, which caused more trouble than first thought. You hate to be negative about it, but I knew it would cause trouble down the line, and that’s what we’re finding now.”

He said certain farmers were doing a lot to avoid paying some taxes, like deferring income to the next year.

“They were also maxing out on pre-payments,” Holcomb said. “The problem is, a lot of farmers were rolling these massive deferred tax liabilities forward every year, even though they’re showing a loss. They may have a loss over the last couple years on their accrued farm income, but they still have this cash they have to deal with, because if they don’t do it, they have a monstrous tax bill.”

He said a lack of steady farm income leads to an obvious problem in that situation.

“The challenge is the recent lack of cash flow is such that they can’t afford to have that big tax bill,” Holcomb said. “In a sense, they’ve backed themselves into a corner with their tax problem.

“But that’s not everybody,” he added. “Some folks have been paying a little more as they go and didn’t have a big aversion to paying taxes, I think those folks are in much better shape.”

Holcomb said one of the big buzzwords in the Ag industry is working capital.

“It’s a current and intermediate cushion that the farmer has,” Holcomb said. “The more working capital you have, the better. Unfortunately, we’ve been burning some working capital over the last couple years. That’s probably the thing that lenders are getting the most squeamish about right now.

The lack of working capital on some farms is showing signs of getting serious.

“I got a call last week from a banker in my area that was asking about lender mediation,” Holcomb said. “That conversation can only be the result of one thing, which is a farmer out there that the bank is getting ready to pull the plug on.

“That means there are farm folks who could be in tough shape,” he added.

He’s especially worried about young farmers.

“When the $8 per bushel corn began coming down,” Holcomb said, “some of the younger guys were paying ridiculous land rental rates to try and get their hands on some acres to work. The problem is they’ve got the least ability to weather out low prices because they don’t have a lot of working capital. They have a cost structure that’s not sustainable.”

High land rental rates are squeezing farmers finances.

The high cost of land rental rates in farm lease contracts are putting a heavier squeeze on farmers and their financial bottom line than we’ve seen in several years. (photo from americasnewfarmers.org)

Rents are beginning to come down, but they have a ways to go to ensure profitability for both farmers and landowners.

Rent is the largest input cost for corn and soybeans,” said Dave Bau, University of Minnesota Ag Business Management Educator in Worthington. “Rents are going down, but at current corn and bean prices, they should be around $100 to $125 an acre. Even base rents on flexible leases are still much higher than this.”

There is still pressure on farmers for land rents to remain very high for at least one more year.

“Farmers are doing more and more flexible agreements with a base rent and additional rent if prices improve,” Bau said. “With other input costs not coming down significantly, break-even prices for corn are $3.80 to $4.00 for corn, and $9.50 to $10 for soybeans.”

Bau adds, “Cash prices currently are around $3.40 for corn, and $8.25 for soybeans.”

With this much economic gloom ahead, what’s the key to surviving the downturn in 2016?

“I think the number one thing is you have to get your cost structure in line,” Holcomb said. “Land rent is one of those high costs that can be negotiated. $400 land rent won’t work right now.”

One of the best things farmers can do is figure out where they’re at financially before they make decisions on the year ahead.

“The farmers I fear for the most are the ones that aren’t doing any kind of financial analysis,” Holcomb said. “They have no idea where they’re at. It’s a sad situation when they find out they’re in trouble, and it’s their banker that tells them”

He added, “The smart producers know where they’re at, and that can alleviate a lot of trouble.”

Farmers need to do a better job of marketing their products in 2016.

“There are marketing workshops going on around the state,” Holcomb said, “and I think it’s really important to look at that.”