Mississippi barges

“Since the river reached its lowest point in October, we’ve seen basis recover a great deal,” Hunter Biram, extension economist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said on Tuesday.

As rain feeds the Mississippi, the rising river is also buoying the commodity prices farmers are receiving at the elevators.

Months of drought throughout the Mississippi River basin dropped the river to record low levels in October; bottlenecking — and at one point halting — barge traffic between Osceola, Arkansas, and Greenville, Mississippi. With nowhere to go, corn, soybeans and other commodities piled up at the elevators. Shipping prices rose, as did the commodity backlog, which translated into lower prices for farmers.

“Since the river reached its lowest point in October, we’ve seen basis recover a great deal,” Hunter Biram, extension economist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said on Tuesday. “Basis” is the difference between the local cash price the futures price for a particular commodity.

“It’s gone from about 80 cents under to 40 percent over the futures price. That’s a 120-cent recovery,” Biram said. “At Helena, it went from 70 cents under to 40 over. That’s a 110-cent recovery.”

Normally, “45 cents would be a big deal, especially with commodity prices,” he said.

Are farmers breathing a sigh of relief?

“If I was a farmer, I would,” he said.

Biram said there were three factors moving the rise in prices. First, was the resumption of barge traffic. Second would be “an indirect effect of the barges moving — those grain stocks that built up at the elevator are being depleted. Those stocks are coming down, and the cash price is increasing.

“The third thing is that during this time of year, basis is strengthening anyway because we are in a post-harvest state,” he said. “Normally, in September and October you see basis weakening because of high stocks. A lot of farmers are going to be delivering grain as they harvest it.”

Fertilizer for spring

The Mississippi River is also an important avenue for the fertilizer that farmers will use for planting next spring. The good news is that overall prices are expected be lower than this year’s, according to the enterprise budgets for 2023 being developed by the Cooperative Extension Service. These budgets help farmers plan for their next growing season.

“Overall fertilizer is about 3 percent lower comparing 2023 with the 2022 enterprise budgets that were adjusted earlier this year because of the war in Ukraine, Biram said.

“Nitrogen is looking 6 percent lower, phosphorus about 2 percent higher and potash is looking constant,” he said, adding that the moderation in prices is likely due not only to barge traffic moving again, but also that the markets don’t see the war the same way.

“Last year it was a shock. It’s not a shock now. Like COVID, we didn’t know what to do with the supply chain issues, but now we’ve adjusted,” he said.

Crop insurance

The Risk Management Agency, or RMA, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also completed its harvest-time price discovery, which is used to determine indemnity for farmers.

RMA determines its payments through two rounds of price discovery. The first is examining futures prices from mid-January to mid-February. The second round is done during harvest.

“I’m not expecting to see too many Revenue Protection indemnities paid for corn, soybeans and rice, unless the farmer experienced huge production losses,” Biram said. In short, as futures prices increased through the season, “the lower your chance of receiving a Revenue Protection indemnity payment.”

The exception may be for cotton growers. Biram said the projected futures price was pegged at $1.02 per pound in February, but that the harvest price is 81 cents.

With a 21 percent fall between the RMA-determined projected and harvest prices for cotton, those enrolled in STAX — the RMA’s Stacked Incoming Protection Plan — may receive indemnity payments, he said.

River gauges

Links to National Weather Service river forecast graphs for relevant lower Mississippi River gauges:

• Osceola, Arkansas, https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=meg&gage=osga4

• Memphis, Tennessee, https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?gage=memt1&wfo=meg

• Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=meg&gage=heea4

• Greenville, Mississippi, https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=jan&gage=geem6

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

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