While the CME Group has traded futures corn contracts mostly lower, farmers are likely seeing better local corn prices than they’ve seen in the last few months.

For instance, in western Minnesota, the cash corn bid was $2.92 per bushel, with a basis of 57 cents under on Dec. 13. The cash bid back on Oct. 10 was $2.69 with a basis of 80 cents under.

One sector that is demanding more corn is the ethanol industry. Ethanol use is encouraging for the corn market, said Betsy Jensen of Northland Community and Technical College Farm Business Management program. She is also a producer from Stephen, Minn.

“We sure are using more corn for ethanol,” she said. “So on the demand side of the equation, we are seeing a glimmer of hope when it comes to ethanol use and that’s kind of what is preventing the corn market from going any lower."

The other item that farmers may be seeing is the opportunity to lock in a carrying charge, she said, by storing corn and selling for delivery in the spring.

“The only major thing we can talk about is selling the carrying charge,” she said. “If you look at your local elevator you probably have a better basis for delivery, maybe for March or April. You want to get that done maybe before load restrictions go on or before you get busy in the field. But if that corn is already in the bin, there is a huge incentive for you to sell it for a deferred month. And that probably comes with improvement in the futures price and also improvement in the basis.

“Keep that in mind. If you do have corn in the bin you want to be looking ahead at prices, maybe for March delivery as opposed to delivering today,” she added.

Looking at the futures market, Jensen said the nearby month is barely above $3.50 a bushel and then it goes back down again.

When the latest USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report came out on Dec. 12, there was a little surprise. The USDA did not decrease corn export sales, despite recent lower-than-expected export sales.

“We are significantly behind the pace we need to meet USDA’s projection, but today they left it alone,” she continued. “I’m not sure what USDA is seeing that the rest of us are not, but that was good news from the market perspective.”

Current corn exports are down 42 percent from last year in total shipments. USDA is projecting a 12 percent decrease for the current marketing year so the U.S. has some ground to make up when it comes to corn export sales.

USDA’s goal for corn exports this marketing year is 1.925 billion bushels. That compares to “phenomenal” numbers a year ago when the U.S. had 2.293 billion bushels in corn export sales.

“It was just a great year for corn export sales. We’re getting back to more normal sales at 1.925 billion, but we’re not on track to meet that number just yet,” she said. “We’d like to see export sales pick up and that might have to come from a weaker dollar. There’s a whole host of factors that would have to go into that.”

Another potential negative to future corn sales is the uncertainty with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which President Donald Trump has said he wants to renegotiate.

Looking at corn production on the global scene, Jensen said so far things are “going okay” down in South America where planting is almost complete. The moisture situation is fine and there isn’t any crisis in the South American weather at this time, not for corn or soybeans.

South America is projecting no changes when it comes to corn production for this year.

“They’re pretty neutral at this time,” she said, “We don’t anticipate too many changes and so we just don’t know what South America is going to be doing at this time as far as corn production is concerned,” she said.

U.S. corn farmers will have some serious decisions to make as far as growing corn, feeding livestock, and pushing for international policy that favors export sales.

“It certainly isn’t a bullish corn market by any imagination, but the strong ethanol use is a little glimmer of hope out there,” Jensen said.