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Crop prices

Sunday, December 16, 2007

James 5:7-8
Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

The crops we grow in Illinois, corn and soybeans, are priced higher this year than ever (almost) before. Supply and demand dictate the prices, but on any given day any given farmer can make or lose almost any given amount of money.

Friday's closing price for corn delivered in March 2008 was $4.38 per bushel. That was up 3 cents from Thursday's price. Soybeans were $11.75 per bushel, up 9 cents. A farmer with 1000 acres often splits his planting in half. 500 acres of corn might harvest an average of 180 bushels per acre. Soybeans yield about 50 bushels per acre.

Doing some quick math produces some scary numbers. Of course they're exciting if you make the right decisions. Thursday the crop was worth $4,950 less than it was worth Friday. Depending on whether I sell on Thursday or Friday, that's about $100 per week more pay or less pay for the year.

And what will the prices do on Monday? Farmer costs are mostly fixed, but the profits vary, often far more than this, from day to day. My brother John, like every farmer, works these markets as well as he can. And he often tears his hair out. "Be patient," brother, until the coming of the Lord.

When I tried my hand at farming, my father taught me to think in five-year blocks. There were just too many variables to count one year by itself. If I sell too low and plant the wrong corn and the bugs eat too much of the crop this year ... "make your heart firm, David, because the coming of the Lord is at hand." Do not be afraid.

Cub fans revel in the future. "Wait till next year." Farmers, too, can handle failure this year if they know there is always next year. In these plans there isn't much thought given to the coming of the Lord, which could of course interrupt all our futures. James wants me to remember what's really important, what's going on just under the surface of my urgent, busy, worry-filled life.

His readers were clamoring for the end of days, and he told them to be patient. Two thousand years later, I have the opposite problem; I forget about the Lord's coming altogether. But when I'm reminded, I notice a new patience in myself with the problems of the day. It's true now, and it's always been true that "God owns the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psalm 50). Those crop prices just don't mean much to him. And he's got me in the palm of his hand.

No fear, Lord. No fear.

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