Suitcases, frequent flyer miles and hotel rooms -- I've become very well acquainted with all of them in my time with DTN. My most recent journey started on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for the National Grain and Feed Association last week. Then I traveled through sprawling pine forests to a small town northwest of Augusta, Ga., to visit some family.
I spent a split second back in Omaha, with just enough time to unpack, repack and sleep for a few hours before heading to the airport for my next flight. This trip to Washington, D.C. included the North American Agricultural Journalists conference and the usual WASDE report lock up.
I landed in Omaha around 4 p.m. last night, and the first thing I did was sort through my seed packets, till my garden and plant onions, broccoli and lettuces.
It's hard for me to believe we're ten days into April already, and the first thing I'm working on today is sorting through the mountain of notes and observations from travels. Here's a brief look:
Every conference and every commodity organization has its defining characteristics. Like every NGFA Annual Convention, the bronze statue of Ceres, the goddess of grain, passed from one office to the other. Two lifetime achievement awards were handed out, and one recipient also received a garden gnome to acknowledge his favorite past time.
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CME Group's chief operating officer sat in a leather armchair for a question and answer session. Bunge and Co Bank sponsored receptions. The general session presentations were broad and forward thinking, but the conversations in committee meetings and hallways addressed the hot-button issues: Viptera and Duracade's impact on country elevators and the supply chain and this winter's transportation logjam.
Unlike years past, MF Global and enhanced customer protections faded into the background as conversations shifted to the changing complexion of CFTC commissioners and how the agency's zeal could change the way end users do business.
I picked up a few interesting tidbits at the conference that don't quite have enough meat to become stories just yet. (I wrote about the Duracade issue last week, and a CFTC story is in the works.)
-- More than 311 million bushels of emergency storage and 543 mb of temporary storage were constructed this year to hold our bumper crops. The top states (in order): Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas. Usually, the temporary and emergency permits only last until the end of March, but Candace Thompson from the Farm Services Agency said elevators can apply for an extension. The agency's been flexible in the past, and "I think with the transportation issues this winter, we'll more than likely extend, but we must see that warehouse operators are trying to move grain out."
-- The corn and hogs futures contracts are under review by CME. The exchange regularly reviews its contracts to assess how well they work for the marketplace. If you’ve got a concern about how these contracts work for you, please get in touch with the CME. They’re open to ideas. One idea brought up in a committee meeting was whether or not a variable storage rate would be pertinent for corn and soybeans.
TIMBER! AND PINE POLLEN GALORE!
The shortest route to McCormick, S.C., from Hilton Head took us down bumpy, worn-out logging roads. We passed through areas where they were burning off undergrowth, areas where crews felled trees and areas re-growing from logging.
I couldn't count the number of trucks hauling trees or 2x4s. We passed at least three lumber mills you could see from the road. The timber industry is much larger than I had ever imagined, and driving down those narrow logging roads made we want to learn more about how the industry works, and if that rural livelihood is flourishing or struggling. I simply don't know.
That brings me to something I learned a lot about: pine pollen. Everything was coated in a yellow-green dust. We were out fishing one afternoon and a front came through. The wind blew giant clouds of green smoke out of the woods, and the haze hung around all day. It was a sight to see, if you'd already taken allergy medicine.
A group of 15 or so ag journalists took a tour of the NASS lockup room earlier this week. I tagged along, even though most of the information wasn't new to me. It was interesting to walk through the steps of how a report is assembled and understand what happened in various rooms down the hallway from the press lock-up facility.
Perhaps more interesting -- and I didn't realize what happened until after we left -- was that Hubert Hammer was pulled away momentarily, and when he reentered the room, he made a comment that he had work to do too. A little while later, I noticed the Twitter comments on a picture of the analysts' room where they decide NASS estimates made a lot of references to delays. My hunch is that Hammer was pulled aside to be notified of the delay to crop progress reports. I don't know anything about why they were delayed, and didn't put two and two together until I'd left the building and lost my chance to ask.
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