John Anderson laughingly says he’s embarrassed to even try and predict what corn prices may do in 2013.

“There are so many unknowns,” says the deputy chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington. “The potential for volatility in this market is extreme. We’ve been in a volatile situation the last two or three years, but 2013 could be even more volatile. So, my range for corn could be from $4 or $4.50 on the low end to $10 on the high end.

“There is more potential downside, and upside, in the grain market than we’ve seen in a long time,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.  “It’s because supplies are tight. When we have a stocks-to-use ratio of 12 percent to 18 percent, as we’ve had many years in the past, it provides a pretty big buffer in the market, and reduces volatility, regardless of what happens with production.

“But when stocks-to-use is at 5.8 percent, as it is now — basically pipeline supply — there’s no longer that buffer, and the market is going to react to every change in production.

“It’s embarrassing to even talk about a price range for grains,” Anderson says. “It’s all going to come down to how much we get planted — which I think will be a lot — and how production turns out (that’s the part that’s really up in the air.)

“What we do know is that we won’t have much corn left as we get to the end of this marketing year. What we don’t know is what kind of year we’ll have in 2013, and that could put us in a pretty broad range as far as price is concerned.”

If growers plant the projected 96 million to 96.5 million acres and yields come in around 160 bushels, Anderson says, “I could see a price in the mid-$4 range. If conditions stay dry in the Midwest, and we have a second short crop year, I don’t think we have any precedent for how we’ll deal with it. I don’t know where the top could be.”

Midwest corn farmers could start the year drier than they’d like to be and still make a good crop if they get timely rains, he says. But continuing drought “would certainly increase the odds pretty dramatically that we’d end up on the low side of yield projections. In which case, I don’t know where the price top would be.