Soybean South

 - From the Editor -

‘Musical Chairs’ Meets
Cropping Decisions

By Carroll Smith

As children, almost everyone has played “Musical Chairs” at one time or another. I remember learning the game in elementary school. Because there were about 21 kids in the class, our teacher broke us up into small groups probably to avoid potential pandemonium.

She selected seven students at a time, set up six chairs and explained that the objective was to walk around the chairs while music played in the background. When she suddenly stopped the music, everyone had to scramble to grab a chair, but obviously there was always one “odd man out.”

That person left the game, but so did another chair.

As a child born with a competitive nature, I remember my heart pounding as I passed each chair trying to anticipate when the teacher would yank the needle from the record, forcing at least all but one of us to claim a seat. I loved the game, but the most frustrating part for me was not knowing exactly when the music would stop.

Although it’s been many years since I’ve even thought about Musical Chairs, it occurred to me recently that the concept is similar to what producers in the Mid-South and the Southeast must have been going through in the past few months trying to decide on their crop mix for the 2009 season.

Think about it.

Let’s call the new game “Musical Chairs meets cropping decisions.” Similar concept as the original game, but with a few rule changes. First of all, the farmer has to begin “playing” after the previous season comes to an end and continue right up until planting time.

We’ll let the “chairs” represent different acreage percentages of his farm. Then picture the four “contestants” – corn, cotton, soybeans and peanuts – circling the chairs while the farmer provides the “background music” – the soft hum of the computer as he studies commodity prices and figures input costs. At some point he settles on the figures with which he has to work, clicks off his laptop, and the crop “players” immediately plop into an “acreage percentage chair.”

  But the game’s not over, yet. Commodity prices fluctuate, fuel and fertilizer prices drop, infrastructure issues come into play, and the farmer is back at the computer, while the crops circle the chairs. After gathering new information, he turns off the laptop, and the crops once again drop into a different acreage percentage chair.

As planting time draws closer, weather conditions become part of the game. Once again, the computer whirs, the crops circle the acreage percentage chairs, the farmer settles on yet another crop mix plan based on up-to-date information, turns off his laptop, and the crops drop into acreage percentage chairs.

Time’s up for “Musical Chairs meets cropping decisions.” Planting season has arrived, and it’s time to begin a new, more familiar game – roll the dice and make the best decisions you can.