Volatile Markets Have Farmers on Uncertain Ground


Farmers try to sort out the financial side of the business at a time when they're worried about drought and just growing a crop.

That's what attracted Brian Schmidt to Ag Outlook 2013 in Grand Island, and what attracted him to farming.

"Hard working people doing good things," he said.

It's a description that fits the military and farming. Schmidt retired from duty by returning to a changing world on the farm with his uncle near Wood River.

"With high tech devices like iPads and iPhones to keep track of news coming across the wire or changing market prices," Schmidt said.

Market volatility was a big theme at day one of the Ag Outlook conference.

State ethanol administrator Todd Sneller sees it across the state, especially in central Nebraska.

He said, "We've seen record land transfers in Adams County, for example where ground has been sold for $16,000 an acre, and it takes fairly high value corn prices to sustain that."

Farmers have benefited from high corn prices, but it's made ethanol production tough. In fact, a couple of central Nebraska plants have gone idle.

He said, "We think it's important to keep plants up and operating because they do represent the best local market and certainly one that offers the most strength over time."

Sneller says a byproduct has helped keep ethanol plants going, in the form of distillers grains sold as livestock feed.

Still, some plants can no longer break even.

Sneller said, "The implications are pretty dramatic. We immediately get calls from livestock feeders in the area who are trying to source distillers feed to make up what plants previously produced and obviously from corn demand standpoint, farmers are going to have to move grain a longer distance."

Individual farmers too struggled to wrap their heads around the changing world.

Zach Mader of Grand island said, "Most people can grow a crop, it's marketing that's been challenging the last four or five years."
Experts say corn prices could fluctuate three dollars over the course of the year, when they once changed only a few cents.
That makes business tough, and those problems are only compounded by the lack of rain.
"Drought's number one on my mind right now," Mader said.
The Ag Outlook conference wraps up on Thursday. For more, visit