A Look Back - 30 Years
Winter Seed Watch — “Whew! The season’s over. You finally got the sunflower crop off the field and into the bin (probably had to run it through a dryer first, though — especially if you’re in an area that had a wet fall). Now you can sit down, relax a bit and keep an eye on the market over winter, waiting for the most opportune time to get rid of those seeds — right?
“Well, not entirely. Because in addition to watching the markets, it’ll also pay to keep tabs on that sunflower sitting in the bin, making sure it stays in good condition until you’re ready to pull it out. The key, of course, is keeping that moisture content down at an acceptable level. And ‘acceptable’ usually translates into 10 percent for winter storage and eight percent for seed which will be stored into the spring or summer months.
“ ‘I’ve heard of people putting sunflower into storage at moisture contents of 12, 13 and even 15 percent,’ says Ken Hellevang, extension agricultural engineer at North Dakota State University. ‘And they may get away with that over the winter, because with the cold temperatures in this region, and by running a fan once in a while, they’re essentially going to keep the seeds frozen.’
“ ‘[But in spring], there are going to be problems if it isn’t dried down, either by taking the sunflower out of the bin and running it through a dryer or by using an in-bin natural air drying system.’ ”
Putting the Wilds to Work / By Don Lilleboe — “For many centuries, wild sunflower plants have grown in the meadows, mountains, plains, deserts — and, yes, fields — of this continent, only to be often ignored, sometimes admired and occasionally cursed. But we’re now learning that these species (or at least some of them) possess characteristics which could impart to commercial hybrids such beneficial traits as insect tolerance, disease resistance and increased drought tolerance.
“The trick is to identify these traits in the wilds, isolate them and then incorporate the traits back into commercial hybrids — without sacrificing any of the desirable characteristics (yield potential, oil content, existing disease resistance, etc.) already found in the current hybrids. And that’s not nearly as simple as it sounds.
“USDA scientists at the Conservation and Production Research Laboratory at Bushland, Texas, along with colleagues in California and North Dakota, are now emphasizing the development of germplasm from the wilds for eventual release to commercial plant breeders. If they wish, breeders will then be able to utilize this germplasm in the development of parental lines and hybrids.”
Did the F.O.B. Doom the Futures? / By Don Lilleboe — “The sunflower futures slot on the electronic board at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange sits empty these days. There hasn’t been a futures contract traded there for several months. Some folks say the contract at the MGE is dead; it simply hasn’t been buried yet. A few say that if the crop can grow to six or seven million acres, we could see trading start up again.
“But everyone agrees on what caused the futures contract at Minneapolis to cease trading: lack of volume. There simply weren’t enough people trading, enough contracts being traded; thus those who were trading encountered minimal liquidity, making it very difficult to get in and out of market positions.
“Did the existence of a successful f.o.b. market at Duluth/Superior doom the Minneapolis futures contract from its start in mid-1980? Not necessarily, say traders; but it certainly didn’t make things any easier. . . .
“ ‘I used to think that the lack of margin requirements on the f.o.b. market was maybe the main advantage the f.o.b. market had over the futures market,’ says [an MGE] trader. ‘And I still think it’s a major advantage; thought not the major one.’
“ ‘Now I think the reason the f.o.b. market works and the futures market didn’t is that there’s a commercial need for the f.o.b. market, and there wasn’t a commercial need for the futures. Since the f.o.b. market was in existence first, the futures market was forced to be competitive with what already worked.’ ”
Connecting Ships with Their Cargo / By Don Lilleboe — “The large ‘saltie’ comes in off the Atlantic Ocean, moves up the St. Lawrence Seaway, navigates the locks at the Welland Canal, steams through the Great Lakes, and finally reaches its destination: Duluth/Superior, twin ports at the western tip of Lake Superior.
“The ship pulls into its berth at the terminal elevator, loads up on sunflower seeds, heads back through the Lakes, retraces its journey along the Seaway, and steams out into the Atlantic on its journey to Rotterdam — a two-week trip from Duluth.
“Simple enough? It’s not, of course. Putting ships and cargoes together — a key part of the marketing system for exported agricultural commodities such as sunflower — doesn’t just ‘happen.’ It can be a very complex business. Ask Sven Hubner.
“As president of Guthrie-Hubner, Inc., long-time vessel agents headquartered in Duluth, Minn., Hubner coordinates a myriad of logistics for ships coming into Duluth/Superior to take on cargoes — everything from arranging for ship inspections to lining up stevedores to getting food supplies on board to bailing seamen out of jail. . . .
“Vessel agents are retained by ship owners in each of the ports their ships visit. ‘Picture yourself with 20 ships, at an average cost today of around $10 million each,’ Hubner explains. ‘If you had all these ships, you’d naturally want to be with each one all the time, because time is money in this business. But you can’t, so you, as a ship owner, hire a guy to look after your interests.’ ”
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