Turmoil in Ukraine, price volatility & the logistics struggle — Persevere!

Editor’s note: This is the first edition of a new weekly markets column authored by Brennan Turner, founder of FarmLead. Check out www.FarmLead.com for more, and find Brennan on Twitter as @FarmLead.

Grains in the first week of March were fairly volatile thanks to the situation in Ukraine standing on a razor’s edge. The market see-sawed across a wide range and hit significant levels not seen since the US drought effects in September 2012. Oats continue to party like the music’s never going to stop, with the May contract close to touching five dollars a bushel on the futures board in Chicago!

Despite being able to cut the tension with a knife in Ukraine, grain is still moving through the country’s pipeline. Ukraine has reportedly shipped 24.7 million tonnes of grain in the current marketing year through March 3rd. This included 7.43 million tonnes of wheat (full-year forecast is 10 million tonnes), almost 3 million tonnes of oilseeds (2.06 million tonnes of rapeseed & 930,000 tonnes of soybeans) and 14.9 million tonnes of corn (full year forecast is for 18 million tonnes)! While the situation is still in the early stages, the Ukrainian agricultural industry is persevering quite nicely while the political state remains in jeopardy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to the media soon after placing his military on alert, saying he’s not interested in making Crimea part of Russia, but that it’ll be up to the residents of Crimea to decide whether or not they re-join Mother Russia. Right on cue, the Crimea parliament has set a referendum for the southern Ukrainian region on March 16th. Canada has officially said that they will not recognize the referendum because the region is currently under “illegal military occupation.” Further, Putin said that if the West implements any sanctions on Russia, it wouldn’t be a good move for anyone (they do export 30% of the EU’s natural gas consumption) . The Russian President also said that he agrees with the West that “Ukrainians have the right for a change of the political system” but that ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovich is still legally the legitimate leader of Ukraine. Clearly, the curtain is far from being closed on the situation.

Coming back to Canada, former Finance Minister & current Member of Parliament Ralph Goodale was on the offensive and blamed Prime Minister Harper for the current transportation issues. The Regina-based MP says that reports, information and data dating back to 2007 pointed out pitfalls in the logistics system that Harper should’ve addressed but failed to do so.

On to oats, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall knows a little bit about using the facts, albeit analysts say that the Premier’s accusation that “General Mills will run out of oats in 15-20 days” is unfounded (“no more Cheerios,” you ask?). One veteran ag-industry commentator, Randy Strychar, says that, in reality, U.S. millers likely have 60-75 days of supply left.

Potentially adding to the problem though is the fact that CP Rail & CN Rail recently cut a few producer car loading sites across the Canadian Prairies due to inactivity or being inaccessible (AKA no more tracks there). All this in mind, watching the markets can be hard – there’s a lot of noise out there these days & it’s easy to get emotional & point fingers. Between #plant2014 coming up and the Russian-Ukrainian debacle, it’s noisy! (We can all agree perogies & borscht are tasty though, right?) Sometimes though, it’s worth putting your focus squarely on YOUR task at hand. When it comes to grain marketing, that should be YOUR bottom-line/return-on-investment. Time for some perseverance.

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