Grain Elevators Facing Tighter Margins, Revenue Pressures in 2020
Sharply higher basis on corn, soybeans and wheat will likely slice into profit potential
DENVER (December 04, 2019) — Grain elevators face significant challenges in the year ahead as they buy basis on corn, soybeans, and wheat at the highest levels seen in years. Basis for all three of the major grains is significantly tighter across the country from strong end-user bids, limited pipeline supplies, and lack of farmer selling amid an uncertain fall harvest, according to a new report from CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division.
“In addition to having to buy more expensive basis, grain elevators are being compelled to offer farmers a range of incentives to sell bushels,” said Tanner Ehmke, manager of CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division. “Lower rates on storage, free delayed pricing, and free grain drying are among those incentives, which are eating into the elevators’ revenues.”
Grain quality issues resulting from high moisture at harvest and frost damage on immature crops will also raise management costs for elevators, potentially resulting in greater losses to shrinkage and spoilage. A propane supply shortage in some regions is also driving up the cost of drying grain for many grain elevators.
Meanwhile, carry in the futures market for corn, soybeans, and wheat is trending smaller as basis strengthens. Futures carry on the Minneapolis soft red winter wheat contract has fallen nearly to zero amid a shortfall in supplies, while the Kansas City hard red winter wheat contract, which in recent years offered reliable profits for grain elevators, has also fallen sharply amid tight basis, the expectation for falling acreage, and a new variable storage rate.
Weather continues to be the major challenge for both farmers and grain handlers. Corn and soybean harvest in some regions of the Corn Belt will likely last into winter with total new-crop bushel inventories likely to remain unknown through winter.
However, grain elevators also have an opportunity to improve margins in an otherwise stressful year. Basis will likely soften as more bushels come to market as harvest operations conclude, giving grain handlers an opportunity to potentially buy cheaper basis. In regions where farmers harvested record yields, elevators can use the volume to make up the loss in margin.
“While grain elevator margins generally are expected to be down in the year ahead, grain handlers can profit from blending new-crop supplies with existing old-crop inventories, and those with reliable access to propane can profit from drying grain,” said Ehmke.
Watch a video synopsis and read the report, Grain Elevator Outlook: Tight Basis Squeezes Grain and Oilseed Margins at cobank.com.
CoBank is a $136 billion cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 70,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country.
CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural communities. Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S. and also maintains an international representative office in Singapore.