The trade dispute between the United States and China continues to be an anchor on the grain markets, and what that will mean in the coming year is an open question.

“It’s a political market,” says Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines. “We’re going to get pushed and pulled (by rumors and news stories).”

That all means that the fundamentals of the market — the supply and demand numbers — really aren’t the primary factors at the moment. Of course, those fundamentals aren’t all that good either. The usual peak time for soybean exports has already come and gone, and the market is starting to look at South American production.

What’s more, this appears to be a year where the world is moving into an El Niño weather pattern, and that generally means better growing conditions in South America.

And all of that leads Roose to the elephant in the room — whether U.S. farmers will reduce soybean acreage and increase corn acreage in 2019.

All of that uncertainty and negativity means farmers need to take a step back and look at the condition of their farm operation and look at items such as long-term risk. This is the winter to get a firm grasp on production costs and marketing skills.

“We challenge people to look at next year,” Roose says.

There are opportunities for some farmers to market grain now or even to market 2019 grain for a small profit, Roose says.

For most farmers, this is also the time to look at risk factors and use existing market tools to reduce their risk. There are opportunities to reduce downside risk and perhaps even lock in small profits for farmers who know their cost of production and who are willing to adjust their marketing strategies to reflect the reality on the ground.

There are, for example, chances to take advantage of a carry in the market or to protect prices on new-crop grain.

“Risk management does bubble to the top,” Roose says.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.