CARLY SIMON, ZACH GREINKE, AND $6 CORN

“We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway.
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting.”

Some of you “Children of the ‘70’s” need no explanation for the above song lyrics. They comprise verse one of “Anticipation”, a pop hit by Carly Simon in 1971 (also made famous in ketchup commercials during later years).

As the calendar turns to March, “anticipation” seems to be a word that fits the bill whether your interest is agriculture, baseball, or politics (count me in for two of the three). The famous Yogi Berra quote, “Prediction is a difficult art, especially if it involves the future” seems to also apply.

GEXPECLeaving politics out the discussion, these feelings of great expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861) and high anticipation in both agriculture and baseball are not without merit. The Brewers have seemingly and at long last fortified their potent offense with a couple of pretty decent arms in the persons of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum. More than one national baseball pundit is picking the team to win the National League Central Division.

There is also plenty of good news on the agricultural front. Wisconsin crop producers are coming off a record yield year in 2010 for the production of both corn and soybeans. Such a scenario has historically spelled immediate doom for commodity prices. However, that mold was broken in 2010 and continued into 2011 as prices not only remained stable, but actually increased!

How should we act during these times of high anticipation? Farmers, like Brewers’ fans, don’t have a lot of practice with this optimism thing. Both groups have much more experience dealing with degrees of bad…not so bad, really bad, oh crap…you get the picture. In the past, most fleeting moments of hope have been met with the equivalent of being run over by a truck assembled in Oshkosh.

When things aren’t going so good, the rally cry for agriculture has often been to become more efficient. Most people don’t like to hear this sort of advice, as the general feeling is that the efficiency card has already been played to the maximum. It’s been this efficiency movement that has resulted in farms with more cows and more acres. It’s also why Americans enjoy the cheapest and safest food on the planet.

The fact of the matter is that what makes good sense in lean times generally makes good sense in good times. High commodity prices, whether locked-in or not, are no excuse for throwing efficiency out the window or for making unwise investments in crop inputs. There are a lot of “snake oil” products on the market that won’t return a dime in good times or bad.

The anticipation of strong commodity prices does call for management adjustments in certain cases. For example, a more favorable corn to nitrogen fertilizer price results in an adjustment of applied nitrogen rates because the dollar return from the additional nitrogen is more easily captured with the resulting small increase in yield.

History has taught us that conditions are ever changing. Although there is currently good reason to anticipate great crop and baseball seasons, we also know that unforeseen factors can tank crop prices; Mother Nature has a lot do with ultimate crop yields; and Zack Greinke can collide with Prince Fielder on a routine infield pop-up. The moral: use these good times to position yourself for the lean ones.

“And tomorrow we might not be together.
I’m no prophet; I don’t know nature’s ways.
So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now.
And stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.”

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