LINCOLN, Neb. -- The volatility of market prices has increased the need for producers to set aside old marketing habits and embrace risk management strategies, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln livestock marketing specialist said.

"While producers may have historically been most concerned about production risks such as weather, pests and other natural perils, many of the risks now facing their operation relate to management and marketing decisions," said Darrell Mark, livestock marketing specialist.

Many producers aren't used to the idea of a risk-return trade-off, said Al Prosch, extension educator. Sometimes producers have to give up some price potential just to reduce variability. As a result, this allows them to spend less time worrying about market prices and instead focus on other aspects of their operation.

Mark said one survey showed more than 70 percent of producers cited risk reduction as their top marketing goal. However, fewer than 20 percent reported using forward contracts, futures hedging or options hedging to lower their risk.

Risk management strategies can guarantee producers a set price for their crops or livestock, Mark said. For example, corn can be grown, delivered and stored and then sold at a price set before the seeds were even planted. Plus it can be done without risk exposure to not producing the crop.
Producers won't lock in the highest price every year. However, by locking in decent prices, producers avoid the risk of a few consecutive poor years putting them out of business, Mark said.

"It gives the producer control because they know the income is there," Prosch said.

Current trends show tightening profit margins, which make it harder for producers to generate precise amounts of revenue to make ends meet. To make the situation more complicated, commodity prices have become more variable due to domestic and international supply and demand factors, Mark said. One example is the decrease in foreign beef sales due to BSE.

Risk management tools can assure producers a sale price and protect them from large price drops. This is important in modern agriculture because farms are growing larger and producing more, which means losses add up more quickly, Mark said.

Various risk management tools can be used in the same operation. Combinations can be used according to each producer's individual needs, Prosch said. Some contracts are permanent from start to finish, while others allow the producer some leeway when it comes to getting in and out of an agreement.

"It is scary to some producers to make a commitment and guarantee delivery," Prosch said. "But using different tools and insurance together eases the process."
"It is important for producers to learn to use basic risk management techniques and routinely apply them on their operations," Mark said. "Understanding how to combine a myriad of risk management tools now available is increasingly important and can even offer some strategies where the traditional risk-return tradeoff decision is not quite so difficult to make."

Market Journal toolbox helps maximize profitability, minimize risk

UNL Extension and the Department of Agricultural Economics has developed the Market Journal Toolbox series to help farmers and ranchers maximize their profitability and minimize their risk when it comes to their bottom line.

The Market Journal Toolbox offers 16 video and PowerPoint educational sessions to provide critical information in agricultural marketing and risk management. Segments run 30 minutes to an hour and are designed and packaged to provide advice and strategies farmers and ranchers can apply immediately, said Darrell Mark, University of Nebraska-Lincoln livestock marketing specialist, and one of the Market Journal Toolbox educators.

"Price volatility has increased substantially in the last decade," Mark said. "Decreasing margins in production agriculture, increasing globalization and outside speculative investment interest have created a greater need for marketing and risk management skills."

Developed by UNL Extension, the toolbox can help farmers and ranchers increase their understanding of key risk management tools, select contracts and risk management tools that complement each other, understand and apply strategies to minimize exposure to price, basis and production risk, and improve grain and livestock selling prices.

By the end of the sessions, producers will have learned how to use some advanced marketing strategies, including the combined use of futures, options and crop insurance.

Toolbox sessions include: Introduction to Toolbox, Cost of Production, Crop Insurance, Livestock Insurance, Government Programs, Cash Market Contracts, Futures Markets, Futures Hedging, Options Market, Hedging with Options, New Generation Grain Contracts, Combination Strategies and Evaluating the Alternatives.

Plus, the CD includes written summaries of each section and spreadsheets, along with a tool selector, toolbox checklist, glossary of terms and cost of production spreadsheets.

Cost for the 16-part toolbox is $349. To order a Market Journal Toolbox, visit the "Market Journal" Web site click on Market Journal Toolbox, or call (800) 755-7765.

"Market Journal" is presented by IANR's UNL Extension and Department of Agricultural Economics.

SOURCE: News releases from the University of Nebraska.