Winter puts markets to sleep, for now

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winter farm tractor
Farm and Dairy file photo

It’s winter in Ohio now. Oh, I know the calendar says it is still fall, but it is not. The sun will move north for another few days, then on the 21st it will start back south, and the days will start to be longer.

The 21st of March the sun will set on Windsor Road, just south of me here in southern Ashtabula County. That will mean that spring is here, but it will still feel like winter.

Winter seems to last a long time here. It is snowing out my window. I don’t know if the snow goes past the county line or not.

That is the normal southern limit of lake effect snow. The wind comes out of Canada, picks up humidity over the open water of Lake Erie, and blows south.

Snow arrives

By the time the saturated wind gets to Cherry Valley or Wayne it is 500 feet above the lake. Lower atmospheric pressure can’t hold the moisture, so it snows.

That snow is mostly dumped on Dorset and Cherry Valley, and by the time it crosses the continental divide on the south edge of the farm I was born on, it starts to gain pressure again.

It is seven miles from the continental divide to the Trumbull County line. That is often the difference between winter and strong fall. Some nights it snows two feet in Cherry Valley, a foot-and-a-half at my house in Wayne, 3-1⁄2 miles away, and six inches at the county line.

My mother, who taught school in Trumbull County for many years, always said if she could get to the county line, she could get to work. If it is snowing in southern Geauga County, Rick Briggs might be done for the winter.

He has been struggling, on the best days, to scrape up some wind-flattened corn. On a good day he gets nine acres harvested. On a bad day he gets enough snow that he can’t get all the fodder through his combine and he gives up.

Winding down

Rick is not the only one to have a few acres here or there, but there is not much left. Winter is here, and the hardy will put on the Carhartts and tackle a few acres on a clear, cold day in February.

Part of me misses those cold days on an open tractor pulling a corn picker. Most of me does not.

When the snowmobile craze hit 30 or 40 years ago, I was the one who put my money in a fireplace. A good snowmobile suit costs more than the Carhartts, and being really cold was never much fun.

I do remember the satisfaction of being tough enough to handle the elements. I remember walking home several miles one night after abandoning my vehicle on an unplowed road.

I couldn’t tell where I was in the road, so I left the door unlocked and the key in the ignition in case someone needed to move it to get the snow plow around. Then, I took off my Carhartts and threw them in the truck because I knew the walk in the waist-deep snow would cause me to sweat.

When I got home, the snow blowing from the south had melted on my head, run down, and frozen over my left eye. Squeeze had to soak it off with a wet washcloth.

I was a man once.

Today, the first half-mile would have killed me. It is a Mark Twain moment, remembering.

He said, “The older you get, the better you remember things, whether they happened that way or not!”

Sleepy markets

Usually, this piece is more about grain. But, it is winter, and the markets act like they are going to sleep through until spring. Corn prices are back down to the contract lows again.

March corn futures put the low in on Nov. 16 and 17 at $3.483⁄4. Monday, we touched $3.481⁄4 at one point, a new low. We are currently trading at $3.493⁄4 this Tuesday, Dec. 12 morning, which is actually up most of a cent after the three and a half-cent loss of Monday.

The last bright spot was back on Sept. 6, with a high of $3.741⁄2. Since then we have slipped lower on the realization of a bigger crop than forecast.

I am remembering that I am the one who thought the low would be pre-harvest, and the crop would be smaller than forecast!

Soybeans

The soybeans have traded differently all fall. We would have to call the market steady to slightly bullish, as the chart highs have gotten slightly higher most cycles. We have traded lower for five sessions, but did make a new recent high on last Tuesday, Dec. 5.

We hit $10.15, besting the $10.13 of Oct. 13. That is not a lot of progress if you look at the October high, but it is if you look at the low of $9.67 on Nov. 11. Wheat markets will now follow the winter pattern of cold weather predictions.

If we see bare ground and cold temperatures in the Great Plains, we will see better prices. We “kill” the crop on the market at least once a winter, and that is the opportunity to sell our wheat.

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