Watch the traffic, not the lights


A good friend recently reminded me of a story Jackie “Moms” Mabley liked to tell about how easily people are misled into trusting the wrong thing or person.

“People always tell me ‘Moms, watch the lights’ when I’m crossing the street,” Moms would relate, “and I’d always ask, ‘Why?’ I mean, lights never killed nobody, fool. Cars and buses, that’s what kills ya’!”

The same is true as commodity markets wait and wonder what the numbers in the USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report March 30 will show.

Will 2012 American corn acres top 94 million? Can U.S. soybean acres fall below 73 million? No one knows. Besides, even when we do get the numbers, all are indications of “prospective” acres, not hard facts of ’em.

Biggest factor

More market-shattering than any planted-acres guess is weather. It’s the bus we should be watching. If the current warm, dry weather pattern holds through planting and into the growing season, we’ll all be watching the sky, not acres.

In fact, it’s the bigger story even now but big market players are tempting you to look at their lights — the recent up-down-down-up ride in corn, for example — and step into the street. Feel free, but first look both ways.

For example, U.S. corn stocks-to-usage ratio, at 6.3 percent, is nearing the all-time low of 5 percent (in 1995-96) and global stocks-to-usage for corn is at a 40-year low. Any glitch in weather means corn prices will rocket out of sight.


Moreover, if the corn market gets lit prior to planting, soybeans will be burn brightly, too, because any increase in corn acres will come at the expense of beans acres. That means both these buses could be pedal-to-the-metal in 2012.

How far? Hey, does it matter more if you get hit by a 10-ton bus or a 15-ton bus? What matters is a long, careful look before opening that bin door and heading to town.

Look, too, at the politicians and solutions they offer for the nation and rural America this election season before stepping into that increasingly oily, increasingly dirty street. Cheap, easy slogans are the traffic lights here; hard, bruising facts are cars and buses.

That’s especially so as the Windbag Gang in Congress prepares to open yet another season of farm bill kabuki. The play, in rehearsal since last October, features players that do not play well together, budgets that are dictated, not debated, and solutions almost certain to transfer more public money to private entities while returning ever less to the underwriting taxpayer.


For example, is there anyone in agriculture who believes the 10-year farm bill budget won’t be hit for $20- to $30 billion in cuts, won’t slash most of those billions from food aid and conservation programs and won’t continue to have taxpayers foot the bill for an increasingly expensive, increasingly expansive crop insurance program?

Since those fixes are all but in, let’s just skip all the phony pandering and public puffery that accompany every farm bill “field” hearing around the country. The aggies should save the time and money and remain in Washington and just write the bill.

Staying on Capitol Hill also allows our ever more-blinkered aggies to not have to “see the countryside” — what House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas recently listed first as his “best part” of the travel — to listen to what they don’t want to hear and will, again, fail to heed. They already know what’s to be done because their campaign greasers have told ’em.

So, aggies, just put it together and pass it; we’ll tell you what we think about it — and you — come November.

Until then, watch the lights when you cross the street.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.


  1. It truly is a shame if congress is allowed to continue its war against small family farmers with the highly financially discriminatory crop insurance scheme. This scheme which guarantees the greatest probability of the greatest income to the largest farmers creates impossible financial competition for most small farmers. In other words congress gives so much more to the haves that those with less are unable to have any chance of competing in the farm business. Crony capitalism is the term that describes federal crop insurance. Federal crop insurance is a government scheme that uses the taxpayers’ contributions and government resources to disproportionately guarantee greater wealth to those with the greatest probability of the greatest wealth. In exchange for highly subsidized premiums the wealthiest farmers or those with the greatest probability of the greatest wealth (generally those with the most acres controlled or owned) receive nearly bullet proof investment and profit insurance worth many times what smaller farmers can obtain. (Fair market values of investment /profit guarantee received.)
    In short, government is guaranteeing the most to those who have the most. This granting of overwhelming prosperity in exchange for highly subsidized premiums allows the largest and already most financially competitive farm operators the ability to make sure most smaller farmers can see the lights of the uncoming train financial


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