Winter brings an end to difficult year

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Corn snow
A harvested corn field, with snow.

Winter is pretty in Ashtabula County. The snow makes the outdoors bright and hides the work unfinished and the weeds uncut. The fields sparkle, the winter birds flit and flutter their dashes of color against the monochromatic landscape.

It is not winter yet, in this in-between season. We had rain last night instead of snow. It is still dark at nine o’clock, after a night of rain. There are no leaves to see out my western window, just the olive-green of the grass that has not been browned by honest winter yet.

Out the north window in my corner office are oak trees that still pretend summer is here, but they are wrong. Rusty red leaves will hang on them until they are thinned by winter winds.

Changing seasons

Squeeze and I are well into winter hours, however. It’s been a long time since I had a corn picker hooked up in the shop, sheltered from freezing the rolls and ready to chase the last of the crop.

These days we go to bed early, where I read a little to her until she falls asleep. Last night, we finished the Christmas Carol.

She was tired of the Louis L’Amour novels I favor — not enough kissing, and that usually is just in the last chapter. Stampedes and dead would-be gunfighters don’t really float her boat.

There was no kissing in the Dickens tale, but I did not remind her of that. She reminds me that there were “kissable lips,” so romance was at least implied.

Soon honest winter will be here, and farmers will give up fall work. The last of the corn may linger until the ground freezes, or we may get it later this week.

The final beans came to town in the last few days, as relieved farmers finally got back to corn. As we wait for winter, we wait also for a bounce in the grain markets that will inspire us to sell corn, or even grow it again.

Holding out

I talked to a producer this morning who said he has not yet bought the prepaid inputs normal this time of year because he is struggling to commit to planting corn. He is coming to terms with the idea of maybe selling most of his crop from this year at a loss, so the soybeans look better to him.

Corn futures have recently been holding in that magic trading range between $3.50 and $3.60 March futures. We barely cracked the $3.60 March barrier Monday, Dec. 4, but this Tuesday morning at the traders’ “biscuit break” that starts at 9:30 a.m., we are back below $3.55 again.

The January beans are back up eight and a half cents, to $10.07. January soybean futures made a run yesterday, getting within four-and-a-half cents of the $10.13 we traded on Oct. 13.

Optimism for beans

That sparked farmer sales of beans to generate end-of-year money, but there was no real rush to sell large amounts. Optimism is still out there, at least for the beans.

The corn is tucked away in hopes that farmers can forget it through the holidays and sell on better days ahead.

Better days come when the end users decide we are as cheap as we are going to get, and start to load up on deferred needs. Better days come with exports of corn better than the anemic 586 tmt (thousand metric tons) of this week, when the trade was looking for as much as a million tons.

Better days come with worse days in Brazil and Argentina. We now see our markets strongly influenced by production news from the Southern Hemisphere. This morning I am reading about new corn and bean production numbers coming for Brazil on Thursday.

I am reading that Argentina is too dry, and that they wait for rain to finish planting the bean crop. They are only 50 percent complete, and are worried.

Well, they are the ones that wanted to plant beans, right? Maybe they should have left some of that cerrado in place instead of rolling it up with their brush rakes at 40 acres a day.

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