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Extension > Agricultural Business Management News > March 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

A flexible land rental agreement benefits in a dry year

By David Bau, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota

Farmland rental rates have increased dramatically the last few years as commodity prices have reached record levels and remained high compared to historic averages. But grain prices will go lower again, and rental rates often lag and do not decline as rapidly. This will leave farmers with high rental rates locked in, creating a loss for the year. A dry year producing lower yields will expand this loss; here the farmers bear all the risk. One way to share the risk and rewards with the landlord is to enter into a flexible land rental agreement. This will reduce the loss for the farmer and share more risk with the landlord.

In 2008, Iowa State Extension reported that nearly 12 percent of all cash leases were flexible. In Minnesota, less than 10 percent of leases are flexible. In a dry year, I encourage farmers and landlords to consider setting up a flexible agreement.

Flexible leases have several advantages:

  • The actual rent paid adjusts automatically as yields and/or prices fluctuate as determined by the agreement.

  • The yield and price risks are shared between the landlord and the tenant.

  • Owners are paid in cash so they do not have to be involved in the crop management decisions.

  • If the agreement includes base cash rent agreement with a bonus, FSA will consider the lease a cash rental agreement; therefore, all government payments would go to the tenant and not have to be divided.

  • In a dry year with lower yields, the farmer will only be locked into paying a base rent, which is usually lower than the typical cash rent.

Base rents vary by area, but in Southern Minnesota the range could be from $100 to $250. Then a flexible component is added based on price, yields, gross revenue, or some combination of these components.

There are many ways to set up a flexible land rental agreement. The farmer and landlord should determine what both are looking for. The higher the base rent, the higher the farmer's risk. The lower the base rent, the higher the landlord's share of risk with no crop insurance to protect their revenue.

Here are some short definitions of different types of flexible rental agreements:

  • Flexible rents based on gross revenue: This is a rental agreement where rental payments are based on gross revenue of the farmland. It can include a base payment in the crop year and a final payment after the actual yield and price are determined.

  • Base rents plus a bonus: This is a rental agreement where a base rent is paid and then a bonus may or may not be paid determined if yields exceed a base goal. Then these additional bushels would be shared between landlord and tenant. The bonus can also be determined by yield and price together or price alone as well.

  • Flexible rent based on yield only: This is a rental agreement where the landlord receives a set base number of bushels with additional bushels if yields are higher than was determined for the base payment. This can also be done with a cash payment based on yield and the price at an elevator.

  • Flexible rent based on price only: This is a rental agreement where the rental payment is based on crop prices. Often it is an average price of the previous twelve months or a quarterly price which is multiplied times the agreed-to bushels. Rental payments can be made at the quarterly price setting times, half and half, or after harvest.

  • Profit sharing flexible rent agreements: This is a rental agreement where the landlord and the tenant share the profit from the farmland. This agreement is similar to a 50-50 crop share lease where they share crop yields 50 percent to landlord and 50 percent to the tenant and some of the expenses are paid by each party.

If a farmer and landlord can come to an agreement on a flexible lease agreement, they can share in both the risk and reward. The lower base payment will reduce the farmer's loss in a short crop and/or poor price year caused by the drought conditions. If timely rains are received and/or prices are good, a farmer and landlord can both share in the additional crop and additional revenue caused by higher prices.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What can livestock producers do to protect against dry year costs?

By David Bau, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota

In dry years, livestock producers are exposed to increasing feed costs. Concurrently, liquidation from producers who have run out of feed--or who are reducing livestock numbers to match feed supplies--can cause prices for the finished product to go lower. What can livestock producers do in a dry year to protect against higher feed costs and less than profitable market prices?

Producers should constantly monitor their cost of production for their livestock enterprise. If the markets allow a producer to lock in a profit on the future contracts, they should do it. They still are exposed to varying local basis and quality premiums or discounts.

If the producer raises their own feed, they should still account for the current feed costs when looking at locking a profitable price for the finished commodity.

Locking in feed supplies and costs can also give producers some assurance in a dry year. If hay prices are going up, look at reducing the hay use in rations. Also look at locking in the hay supply required to get through the year as soon as possible because in dry/short crop years, hay prices will continue to rise as supply shrinks. Farmers should examine feed rations to determine if there are less expensive alternatives.

If a producer is using corn in their rations, and they have locked in a final profitable finished market price, they should also purchase the required corn supplies either on the futures board or with forward contracts with local elevators. If they are planning to raise the corn on their fields, what can they do when the drought conditions lower yields significantly? These producers can buy a call option on the December contract on a percent of the crop they are concerned they might not produce. Even in the last major drought of 1988, Minnesota yields were about half the normal year's yield, so farmers should be confident if they purchased calls on half of their normal corn production.

The producer needs to treat the cost of these calls as price insurance on the feed supply. So if the drought is severe and corn prices increase significantly, the call option's value will increase in a parallel fashion and the producer will be able to purchase the higher-priced corn with the profits from the call option. In 2012, the corn price increase of $3.50 in June and July with call options in place, a farmer would have profits on the call option that could be used to purchase the higher priced corn. Producers who utilize soybean meal could buy call options on November soybeans and have the same price insurance.

Farmers should try to source the physical crop in advance from the elevator, feed mill, or neighboring farmer.

Livestock producers could consider decreasing livestock numbers, culling less profitable livestock heavily, and weaning calves early. Producers should work with a vet and nutritionist to determine the lowest cost ration that will ensure optimal health and growth.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to market grain in a dry or drought year

By David Bau, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota

How should a farmer approach commodity marketing plans in a dry year? Last year was the driest year on record since the 1950s in the United States. Crops varied widely across the country, but Minnesota was fortunate to receive May rains and timely rains thereafter in parts of the state. Minnesota's average corn year led the country. Unfortunately, going into the 2013 crop year, Minnesota's sub soil moisture is at extremely low levels--much lower than the 2012 conditions. What can a farmer do to enhance their commodity marketing under these conditions?

Start by considering purchasing a higher level of insurance coverage. The majority of farmers purchase 75 percent coverage level and some form of revenue product that insures both yield and price. The prices for soybeans and corn are set at the average of the November and December futures contract during the month of February each year. The 2013 prices are set at $5.65 for corn and $12.87 for soybeans. A harvest price is set with the average of these future contracts for the month of October. The revenue insurance sets a total revenue guarantee at the APH (actual production history) multiplied by coverage level (75 percent), multiplied by the spring price (February average). If a farmer purchases a higher coverage level, they have purchased a higher total revenue guarantee that could cover expenses if below-average yields occur due to dry conditions.

A farmer should consider optional units over enterprise if their farmland quality varies significantly. With enterprise insurance, your premiums are much lower, but it requires crop losses across a broader region. Your whole-farm average yields have to be below your coverage level to get indemnity payments. While with optional units, if one or more of your fields have lighter soil, they would receive an indemnity payment on how each field performs--not your entire operation's average yields.

Pre-harvest marketing historically has been beneficial to farmers by locking in higher prices than are offered at harvest. But going into 2013, corn prices could go to above $8 if drought continues or decline to under $4 if a near normal crop is produced on a large planted acreage. Therefore farmers are hesitant to prepare their 2013 marketing plan and sell any crop at near breakeven prices and well below 2012 crop prices.

As the first part of every marketing plan, a farmer should determine their 2013 estimated breakeven prices. This would be the starting or minimum price for pre-harvest marketing their 2013 crop. A more conservative approach due to the drought conditions might be to lower expected yield below the APH. I might also lower the percent of my crop I am willing to price in my pre-harvest marketing plan to compensate for the current moisture levels.

Art Barnaby, one of the originators of the crop insurance policy from Kansas State, said, "If you buy crop insurance and don't do pre-harvest marketing you are wasting your insurance money."

But with crop insurance--even if you sell 75 percent of your crop pre-harvest--you have some assurance that if your yields are lower than 75 percent of APH, your insurance will reimburse you for the lower yield at the spring or harvest price, whichever is higher. Make sure you do not use the Harvest Price Exclusion product. This way, if prices are much higher at harvest than spring, you will receive a higher guarantee price and be able to repurchase any of your pre-harvested grain that you did not produce with the insurance revenue.

Once the spring price is set for revenue crop insurance, a farmer should not sell below this price or risk losing some of the insurance coverage. Farmers could discount the APH yield as well if drought conditions exist and use this lower yield to. If you choose this option you should recalculate your higher estimated breakeven prices with the lower yields and adjust your marketing plan accordingly.

Each year is different, but if you have a proactive marketing plan in place, you will be better able to adapt to what happens in each crop marketing year. You'll also be prepared for a short crop if the drought conditions persist.

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