Market to Market - May 5, 2023

Market to Market | Episode
May 5, 2023 | 27 min

On this edition of Market to Market: Weather makes an impact on travel, planting and recreation. A look at an immigrant farm boy who ended up being the longest-serving cabinet member. And, market analysis with Chris Robinson.


Coming up on Market to Market - weather makes an impact on travel, planting and recreation. A look at an immigrant farm boy who ended up being the longest-serving cabinet member. And market analysis with Chris Robinson, next.

What's next doesn't happen by chance. It happens when researchers and farmers work together to solve tomorrow's agronomic challenges. We're committed to creating what's next because at Pioneer, our name is our mission.


Sukup Manufacturing. Celebrating 60 years of innovation as a family owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment out of Sheffield, Iowa. Learn more at


Tomorrow. For over 100 years, we've worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today.


This is the Friday, May 5 edition of Market to Market, the Weekly Journal of Rural America.

Hello. I’m Paul Yeager.

This week’s economic news looked like the reports of the last few weeks - mixed signals.

The economy added 253,000 jobs despite layoffs in tech and finance.

The unemployment rate matched a half-century low again at 3.4 percent

The Federal Reserve enacted another rate hike this week, pushing the funds rate to 5.25 percent. However, the Board of Governors also signaled this might be the last rate bump for a while. Observers of economic data are making the case for both a looming recession, or a soft landing.

The U.S. trade gap narrowed to a four-month low as imports of finished goods fell at a faster rate than exports of raw materials.

 New orders for manufactured goods rose by 0.9 percent in March, reversing a two-month slide, driven by orders for aircraft and electronics.

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A rare May winter snow storm in the eastern mountains of West Virginia dropped eight inches of snow on the Alleghenies.

Elsewhere, the spring weather came in nearly every other form including a deadly start to the week in middle America.

David Miller reports.

The dry and windy weather combined to create a massive windstorm in central Illinois on Monday. Seven people were killed along I-55 south of Springfield when almost 60 cars and 30 commercial vehicles collided after a large dust cloud from nearby farm fields created zero visibility conditions. 

Kevin Schott, Montgomery County, IL Emergency Services: “This is a difficult scene, something that is very hard to train for, something that we really haven't experienced locally.”

Drought conditions remain in the Plains.  Nationally, however, the current Drought Monitor shows another week of improvement.

There were dusty conditions for those rolling the planters this week in the Grain Belt.

Progress is at the five-year average for corn planting with 26 percent of the crop in the ground.

Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin remain well off their five-year pace as the soil gets dry enough to allow field work to finally begin.

Soybean planting is 19 percent complete, 8 points ahead of the multi-year average.

Flooding is still an issue along the Mississippi River. Major flooding can be found from Dubuque, Iowa downstream to Burlington. The Quad Cities Area around Davenport crested this week. Residents near Lock and Dam 14 were still surrounded by the river. The crest here was about a foot below the record - or fifth on the all-time list.

Davenport’s riverfront landmarks were surrounded by the Mississippi flood waters, but no permanent flood protection is on this side of the river. A double row of Hesco barriers has been put in place to protect the city.

As the surge of snowmelt flowed downstream, less flooding is forecast and will only prompt minor and moderate levels at St. Louis and points lower. 

Severe weather came in multiple forms in Virginia.  This tornado near Virginia Beach damaged dozens of homes, downing trees and causing gas leaks.

More than a dozen atmospheric rivers dumped epic snowfall this winter season.  This is causing concern near the Sierra Nevada’s, but the snow melt is also recharging many streams and rivers in the area. According to California weather officials, 80 percent of the Sierra’s snowpack has yet to melt.

For Market to Market, I’m David Miller.

Tom Vilsack is in his third term as Secretary of Agriculture. At 10 years, his tenure is a record but still well short of the longest serving head of USDA. A farm boy from Iowa holds that distinction as being the longest serving cabinet member in U.S. history.

Colleen Bradford Krantz looks at the story of Tama Jim Wilson.

The easy-to-miss sign along a central Iowa gravel road just west of the town of Traer runs a bit light on details, declaring only: “‘Tama Jim’ Wilson Home Site and Farm.”

But most in this area of Tama County already know the details. It’s the rest of the nation that may have forgotten the immigrant farm boy whose arrival in the Midwest in the mid-1800s took him down a path of public service ending with the federal government’s top food production job: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

Leo Landis, State Historical Society: “I think most…today have no idea who Tama Jim Wilson is, and yet he was the longest serving Secretary of Agriculture in United States history. Our current secretary, Tom Vilsack, has a long way to go to catch Tama Jim.”

“Tama Jim” – whose real name was James Wilson – held that position for 16 years -- the longest of any cabinet position.

Leo Landis, State Historical Society: “Tama Jim Wilson was a transformative Secretary of Agriculture, a transformative Iowan.”

The nickname “Tama Jim” was a term of endearment associated with his home county earned after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

George Kadrmas, board member, Traer Historical Museum, Traer, Iowa: “When he was elected, there were two James Wilsons from Iowa that were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. So, they nicknamed him Tama Jim and another Jim Wilson was Jefferson Jim from Jefferson County, Iowa.”

His family emigrated from Scotland in 1851, the year James, the oldest of 14 children, turned 16. The Wilsons lived in Connecticut for a few years before moving to Iowa in 1855 to buy farmland.

George Kadrmas, board member, Traer Historical Museum, Traer, Iowa: “It was before the town of Traer was formed…They came to an area which is west of Traer and was settled by a group of Scottish families…He did attend school but had limited opportunity for education…He did go to Grinnell College for a short period of time. And he was, as I understand it, he did a lot of reading and self-study.”

In the early 1860s, Wilson acquired his own farm, became editor of the local newspaper in Traer, and married Esther Wilbur. He held several local government offices, joining the group that established the Republican party in Iowa. By 1867, he had been elected to the Iowa General Assembly, eventually serving as Speaker of the House.

Leo Landis, State Historical Society: “So when he’s in the Iowa House in the 1860s, he’s a founder and leader of that party. And the thing to understand, it’s part of those reform movements…. the suffrage issues, anti-slavery issues, which is what the Republic Party is: to…not allow slavery in the territories.”

In 1873, Tama Jim was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served two successive terms before returning to his Iowa farm. Wilson returned to Washington for a final term that ran from 1883 to 1885.

Leo Landis, State Historical Society: “He’s a critic of the state agricultural college in Ames and the way it’s teaching its student about agriculture.”

It was that criticism and his desire to improve farming that led to his appointment in 1891 as head of what was then the Iowa Agricultural College’s experiment station. He was also a professor of agriculture at the campus that became Iowa State University.

George Kadrmas, board member, Traer Historical Museum, Traer, Iowa: “There was a strong movement to educate farmers and help them improve their farming practices and productivity.”

Only a year after moving to Ames for the appointment, however, tragedy struck at home. His wife, Esther, then 56, was found dead in a nearby creek.

George Kadrmas, board member, Traer Historical Museum, Traer, Iowa: “It’s not real clear if it was all mental health, but there was a mental aspect to it, and her death was ruled a suicide. It was very tragic at the time.”

Tama Jim Wilson also taught George Washington Carver, whose later fame later as a botanist and horticulturist would match Wilson’s own. The two kept in touch over the years. In one letter, preserved among Wilson’s personal papers at Iowa State University, Tama Jim wrote:

Letter from June 1897, Wilson to Carver: “You have a magnificent field opened up to you, and it will be your privilege to prepare others to go out and teach, not only among the colored, but you will find the whites ready listeners, and just as soon as the country becomes filled with colored teachers the color line will vanish away so thoroughly that people will wonder what was the matter with the folks of the 19th century, who established color lines rather than lines of merit, worth, and intelligence.”

In 1897, Tama Jim was appointed as the 4th Secretary of Agriculture at the request of President William McKinley. Wilson was with McKinley the day McKinley was shot in 1901. The wound lead to McKinley’s death eight days later.

Wilson subsequently served under President Theodore Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft.

George Kadrmas, board member, Traer Historical Museum, Traer, Iowa: “He was instrumental in looking at the breadth of what agriculture did and contributed to the country. The fact that we were developing trade with foreign countries, the growth of experimentation, improving farm practices, the Food and Drug Administration, and things like quarantines on livestock diseases…He was looking at all things that agriculture was involved in other than just at the farm gate.”

Leo Landis, State Historical Society: “James Wilson… really does modernize and makes the USDA a relevant cabinet-level department.”

Tama Jim left Washington D.C in 1913 at age 78 and returned to Traer, where he died in 1920.

Through his final years, he continued working with farmers and ranchers, the people he described once in a speech as a class that “works in the sunlight through long days, keeps level heads when others are excited, and reinforces all other classes when they wear out.

For Market to Market, I’m Colleen Bradford Krantz.

Next, the Market to Market report.

Elevated tensions between Ukraine and Russia put a jolt in the grains. For the week, the nearby wheat contract gained 27 cents, while the July corn contract added 12 cents. The soy complex seemed immune to the Black Sea situation while trying to add on to a soy oil rally. The July soybean contract moved 17 cents higher, while the July meal contract shed $6.30 per ton. July cotton advanced $3.10 per hundredweight. Over in the dairy parlor June Class III milk futures dropped 32 cents. The livestock market finished on a downward trend. June cattle fell $3.55. May feeders cut $9.30. And the June lean hog contract lost $7.92 or 8.6 percent. In the currency markets, the US dollar index finished 41 ticks lower. June crude oil lost $5.26 per barrel. COMEX gold added $26 per ounce. And the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index fell a little more than 17 points to settle at 545.35.

Yeager: Joining us now is regular market analyst, Chris Robinson. Hey, Chris.

Robinson: Hey, Paul.

Yeager: Is it a positive week to be here?

Robinson: It feels like we've put a bottom in.

Yeager: And that's the big question everybody has. And that's what I have. Have we put the bottom in, in wheat?

Robinson: Wheat has broke in four months $2 and multiple times people have tried to buy it, buy it. Every time there's I call it a Putin scare, we got another one going into this week, what's going to happen with the Black Sea, are they going to put mines in there to keep the Russians out? Who knows. But every time we've had those pops they have been rallies to sell. Hopefully we can get some legs on this one and the last four months has been very disappointing. So yeah, we've tried to buy the lows before, we tried again, we hit a 22-month low across the board. The funds I think are in the driver's seat. What does that mean? They're short a record amount of Chicago wheat. I put it in the letter today, it's something like 185,000 contracts. If they have to buy that back they're going to be the elevator ride up. So, we'll see. So, I'd say we'll have to wait and see but it sure feels like we're closer to the bottom than we were a week ago.

Yeager: So, what do I do if I want to get involved in this market?

Robinson: Well, if you're a farmer you're already involved, you're always long. So, I would say this, if you are making emotional sales or some guys made really good sales $2, $3 ago because they're like okay, I want to protect this level, but if you think that the lows might be in, it's a good time to maybe look at reowning some of what you sold in the past. And you don't want to reown it for a week or two, you can go reown it all summer because if we get a summer market, a summer market rally, that may be something that helps everybody recover. So, that's what I would be saying. Now, if you're still worried about the downside, you don't want to have real expensive downside protection on. This is a time where I think you'd want to make sure that you don't have too much tied up in a downside put.

Yeager: Moving to corn, is it the same set of questions here, Black Sea, is the low in, are we headed higher?

Robinson: You know, corn broke 80 cents in 11 days, soybeans broke I think it was close to 90 cents, something like that. We had this horrendous selloff in the last 10 days. A lot of it was because of what was going on in outside markets. It feels like that's behind us. The crude oil seems like it might have found a bottom. It felt to me like a lot of people were trading corn that couldn't get enough action in the crude oil because everybody is concerned if that goes away. I also think that that last takeaway when the Chinese took away the cancellations, we already knew about it once and then they put it in the exports yesterday and it was like people forgot about it for a week. That certainly felt like we might have been the low for a while, that $5.16, $5.17 area. And I think most farmers now that's what you're looking at is next year's corn crop. And I think the big level to watch now is can we get back above $5.50?

Yeager: This year's corn crop is going in right now. I'm sure we'll have a huge bump up come Monday from USDA on progress. What does that do to new crop positions and where we should be?

Robinson: Well, we just bottomed out and we had some really good opportunities back in December, January, February. January, February, the last time I was here we talked about it, we were at $5.90, $6.00 for about six weeks, so a lot of people had a lot of opportunity to do something back then. And then of course we had the big flush in March, then we had a little recovery at a 50-cent rally and people were like, okay, the lows were in, that was the last time we had a big flush. I would say this, now is not the time to get aggressive. You don't want to be selling corn at a 17-month low, which is really where we were. Bigger picture I always tell guys to step back and look for a rally, hopefully the worst is behind us right now.

Yeager: So, you're done buying corn if you're an end user?

Robinson: No, if you're an end user this is probably a screaming buy opportunity --

Yeager: Still on for you?

Robinson: Oh yeah, if like a bakery or anybody that needs to buy corn, a mill, something like that, absolutely. This is when you want to step it in. The only people that haven't stepped in and bought yet, again, the Chinese. So, we'll see.

Yeager: Let's move to beans. They were, as I mentioned, immune from the Black Sea. But oil, you mentioned crude, this is more so oil, there was other issues in other oils. Is that the only factor you think moving this market?

Robinson: Well, I think that crush issue and what's going on with the South America with the small Argentine crop, Argentina is trying to get beans from Brazil so they can do their crush, I think that's something that we're going to continue to watch and see if it impacts ours. But if you look at what happened with bean oil, bean oil we were at almost a two-year low, this 51, 52 level in July. Hopefully that, again, is behind us. And that has been very, very sensitive to crude oil as well. We had that big break the other day, we broke down and made new 15-month lows in crude oil. So again, is the bottom in? It's kind of if you look across the board you're probably going to see people try and step in here and buy they call it a tradeable bottom. What does that mean? It just means we've come to an area on the charts where there was a lot of activity and if that holds that will be the base for the next move.

Yeager: Well, the chart on the screen right now talks to what you're referring to. We've also hit some retracement here in beans, right? Is that where the biggest retracement is happening right now? And what does that mean if I'm a producer at home that I need to do?

Robinson: Well, are you talking about old crop or new crop?

Yeager: Let's go new crop then.

Robinson: Yeah, new crop. November soybeans they've actually been the strongest across the board. We did come down to that $12.50 level. That's a big support level. The next low you've got to worry about is the July low at $12.17. So, the beans held in the best. The corn and wheat just had really terrible two or three weeks, we dropped a tremendous amount. Soybeans have held in the best. We'll see if that continues. We've had steady soybean demand. We have had terrible demand for wheat and corn really. It's been underperforming and I believe last week it was the lowest exports that we've had in 20 years for corn. So again, hopefully we're bottoming out. But technically in soybeans everybody is going to look at the round numbers. Are we going to get another pop up to $13? It feels like we want to go there after today. But again, just like when corn was back at $5.90 all of January, February, March, just kind of sat there and put everybody to sleep. You could have done a lot at $14. So, I would say if you get back towards $13 start looking at doing something. If you didn't do any marketing back on the highs, what you don't want to do is make a bad decision and sell at these lows. Now would be a time where you'd probably be better off buying a very, very cheap put if it will stop you from making a bad cash sale.

Yeager: Cotton, had a little rally this week. Is that going to continue?

Robinson: I think that depends on the Chinese demand and also as the soybeans go, cotton will go. Cotton has been stuck in kind of a miserable 6 cent trading range for five months. It has just been waiting for something to happen. We had a tremendous volatility last year all over the place. I think people are going to continue to watch for new crop cotton 80 cents, that's a big psychological level, just like $5.50 corn or $13 beans, that's I think are the next battlegrounds. And we'll see, the setup is there, the funds are short cotton, they just got short corn. That's another thing. If those guys have to cover those shorts that could help us propel to a new high. The biggest short you've got to worry about is wheat. That's a big position and I don't know if they're going to go with that if they really have to buy back their wheat.

Yeager: In livestock, live cattle have put in a top?

Robinson: Two or three weeks ago it was all-time highs for live cattle going back as far as you want to look. People were looking at feeder cattle wondering if they were going to go test their 2015 highs, the last time we were up here. Feeder cattle still has a way to go. Anybody in the last fourteen months that has said the lows, the top is in for cattle has been proven wrong. This has been a textbook rally for the last 14 months, why a marketer would want to use puts rather than selling futures, because if you sold futures you just left a tremendous amount on the table no matter where you covered them, if you used that as a hedge. People that used puts over the last year, yeah you probably lost money on your puts, but you participated in that rally. So, two or three years from now I'm sure somebody is going to write a book saying, this was the perfect time, you should always use puts in a rally market. Demand has held up, we still have really good unemployment numbers coming out today. That has been the one big what if. Are people going to stop going to the grocery store and buying beef? If demand holds up, that may be something where we've had these corrections before, we had a correction about a month ago, but the overall trend has been up for the last fourteen months. And if you're a producer you always want to keep the upside open. I'm still friendly livestock.

Yeager: Well, let's do a question that came in via Facebook. This is Scott in Wisconsin. He has a question in that livestock area. He says, if packers are short cattle, Chris, why is the market lower the last two weeks?

Robinson: For live cattle?

Yeager: Yeah.

Robinson: Well, I also think that you have to look at where we have been. Demand has been really good. We did have a nasty break in cash this week. And it's just like everything else, at some point the market has to pull back. If you look at the bigger picture you can't rally $20, $25 and not have $5, $10 pullbacks, which I think that's what happened. So, when you say it's lower, it's relative to what? Every time that we've had these corrections, we'll see, next week the proof will be in the pudding. We settled lower on the week. We'll see if that happens. The other thing to worry about, again, I've talked about it probably too much, but the managed money. They've got a big long bet in live cattle. If they decide they want to get out of that, that could push us lower and then conversely they have a record short bet for lean hogs. If they have to cover that, that could be the spike higher. So, I would look at that spread moving ahead. And again, when somebody says yeah, something has been lower, you've got to look at what we've done. When we're at record highs to have a $10 break after such a big move I don't think it's that much to panic about yet.

Yeager: In hogs or in live cattle?

Robinson: In the live cattle.

Yeager: Okay, let's go back to hogs then because there's similar factors technically at play there. Looking at this chart that's on the screen now, was that a recovery bounce that we saw at the start of the month of April?

Robinson: Oh yeah, that was interesting. We started to the year, we were at contract highs in December lean hogs. It looked like we were going to have another good year, it was a really good rally. All we've done since December was trend lower. That has been probably the most irritating or difficult market to understand, especially when you've got live cattle going basically higher, steadily higher and steadily higher. It feels like we may have made a new low there. There's concern there and you're starting to see some drop in the marketing weights. You're starting to see a little bit more liquidation as people continue to, if you're in the hog business you're looking at it saying, well, where are we going to bottom out here? It felt like we had bottomed out. We had a little bit of a recovery. But, again, I think the big levels to watch, especially in July hogs, that 80 cent level, that's got to be key to hold.

Yeager: Okay, Chris Robinson, thank you so much, appreciate your time.

Robinson: Thanks.

Yeager: That is going to do it as we put a pause on this analysis and continue our discussion about these markets in our Market Plus segment. You can find both the analysis and the Plus on our website of These resources are free. We do love hearing from you on story ideas, comments and general conversation. Drop us an email via Next week, we look at a new approach to handling mental health emergencies in rural America. Thank you so much for watching. Have a great week.



Market to Market is a production of Iowa PBS which is solely responsible for its content.

What's next doesn't happen by chance. It happens when researchers and farmers work together to solve tomorrow's agronomic challenges. We're committed to creating what's next because at Pioneer, our name is our mission.


Sukup Manufacturing. Celebrating 60 years of innovation as a family owned and operated manufacturer of grain storage, drying and handling equipment out of Sheffield, Iowa. Learn more at


Tomorrow. For over 100 years, we've worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today.