Be prepared to cash in on relatively stable prices early in the fall harvest. Keep an eye on Brazil's appetite for rice imports. But don't expect any significant bump in exports or price because of the opening of the Iraqi market to U.S. rice growers.
That's among the advice Hamilton will share when he speaks at the LSU AgCenter's Rice Research Station Field Day June 26 at Crowley. The event, which will be held on the research station grounds, also will include field tours regarding some of the latest LSU AgCenter research.
"I don't hold out a lot of hope for the Iraq market, mainly because of price concerns," Hamilton said in a phone interview this week. "The former government there purchased a lot of rice in Asia, which is now getting shipped. And Iraq is expected to honor those contracts."
Hamilton also said Asian rice prices are sharply below U.S. prices, and that means the bulk of aid delivered to war-torn Iraq will come from Asia – at least for now.
"I think there may be some prospects of sales to Iraq in the next crop year, but a lot depends on how competitive we are in price," he said, adding, "Right now, our prices are much higher than Asia's."
Hamilton and partner Kevin Ries run an online advisory service cleverly dubbed nopotatoes.com. The Internet site offers a variety of insights into rice exports, the futures market and pricing/hedging strategies for producers.
"We're trying to get involved in getting farmers to think about the market and formulate a plan for when and where they want to sell their crop," Hamilton said.
The good news is that this year's rice prices should be a lot better than last year's, when prices tumbled to record lows around $3.50 per hundredweight.
"Last year was a price disaster," said Hamilton, a long-time rice buyer with Uncle Ben's and a key player in establishing a rice futures contract at the Chicago Board of Trade. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of thing. Rice was going about as cheap as a bag of nursery dirt."
This year, prices have rebounded and have stabilized between $5 and $6 per hundredweight. Hamilton expects prices at harvest to be in that range, and he suggests farmers formulate a plan to sell at least some of their crop early rather than holding out hope for a run up in price later in the year.
"The market will start out much firmer than last year," he said, adding that one reason is that rice stocks are at their lowest levels since 1982. "We're very short this year, and next year, in terms of long-grain stocks."
The Texas-based analyst said another key factor will be Brazil's appetite for rough rice imports, which could see as much as a billion to a billion-and-a-half pounds (10 million hundredweight to 15 million hundredweight) of new demand due to weather factors in that country.
"The major thing in Brazil is that El Nino reduced the winter crop," Hamilton said, explaining that could put upward pressure on prices as the year unfolds.
Rough rice makes up about a third of U.S. rice exports. This year, USDA forecasts exports of roughly 88 million hundredweight (8.8 billion pounds). The Agriculture Department also recently raised its season-average farm price range from $5 to $5.50 to $5.25 to $5.75 per hundredweight.
Hamilton's advice to sell early is the opposite of what he suggested last year – when he called for farmers to hold out as long as possible before selling in hopes of a price up-tick.
The analyst still doesn't rule out prices edging above $6 per hundredweight later in the season this year, depending on production in Asia. But current weather conditions appear favorable for a good harvest in Asia, which would tend to keep prices from soaring.
"I am friendly (optimistic) on the market, but it is a difficult market, and you need to watch it," Hamilton said.
"Last year, I told my clients to hold rice until very late in the marketing year. And in January through April they had a bounce in price," Hamilton said. "This year, I'd advise selling rice during the harvest period."
The commodities analyst said farmers should have a selling price in mind and be willing to act. And he stressed that the farmers who make money are those who have a marketing plan.
"Don't act on a hunch. Do your homework," he said. "You don't buy equipment on a hunch or decide on varieties on a hunch."
Hamilton said farmers should spend a little time learning about the market and planning. Then, "Be ready to sell," he advised.
The analyst also said farmers who sell throughout the year, rather than trying to pick the absolute top of the market, tend to make more money. Growers also can use the futures and options markets to protect themselves against price swings.
"There are cash marketing concepts that large farm operations and commercial firms use all the time in their trading strategies," Hamilton said, adding that he will touch on some of those strategies at the Rice Field Day next week.
All those interested in the rice industry are invited to attend the field day. For more details, phone the AgCenter's Rice Research Station at (337) 788-7531
Randy McClain is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.