Commodity marketing

Don’t get caught beholden to a single price at a single point in time.

Many times agricultural producers are used to providing or selling a commodity such as corn, milk or livestock at certain times of the year and unfortunately being reliant on a cash price at the point which the product is ready for market and sold at that time. There are methods that can assist a producer in locking in prices but may require storage of the product for a certain amount of time or utilizing other marketing techniques.

There are numerous methods that one can employ to help limit price risk as a seller or a purchaser of a particular commodity. This article cannot cover all of the methods or go in-depth on any individual method due to the articles brevity but hopes to provide just a quick reminder of the opportunity a producer has. Producers need to ask additional questions about their own operations, their price risk management strategies, and to seek out those that can provide additional information and assistance such as their local Michigan State University Extension farm management regional educator.

Many producers have used a number of available opportunities such as cash forward contracts through their local elevators and co-ops to sell their grain commodities. This allows a producer to lock in a cash price in the future with an agreement to deliver a specified quality and quantity at certain point in time.

Others may use the commodity futures market and hedge their crop on the one of the boards of trade or exchanges. This usually requires more cash in-hand for use as margin calls that may be required while you are holding on to the contract prior to either making deliver or taking delivery of a commodity. Sometimes this amount of money being held as a margin can be substantial but so can the benefits if a producer uses the correct methods to employ such price risk management strategies. The commodity futures markets were developed specifically for farmers for the sole purpose of locking in a price for their product. This way they knew what their commodity or product would receive as long as they delivered the product on time, at a specified location, of a certain quality and quantity.

A very close alternative to hedging is the hedge-to-arrive option offered by most elevators. It works exactly like a hedge other then you must deliver to that elevator. However, you are not responsible for the margin calls, the elevator covers those for the promise of delivery.

Due to the cash that may be required to hedge a commodity on one of the exchanges or boards of trade many producers find this unsettling and may utilize the option market as insurance against or for price movement. This can have minimal cost in comparison to other techniques but does not necessarily lock in or guarantee a price for a commodity but more closely acts as insurance for the holder of the option and provides an opportunity or option to enter the market if commodity prices hit a specific mark.

It is never too early to begin a good price risk management strategy. In fact, much of a crop may be marketed prior to it even being planted.

For further information, you can read the pricing tools lecture notes. For further information about farm management please go to the MSU Extension farm management website where you can find information on a number of topics.

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