Haugerud, 57, the daughter of a part-time farmer, fought the temptation to join the crowd. Instead, she and her team got to work. They rechecked past corn yields and plowed through ethanol production and export numbers to reconfirm their calculation of strong demand for a so-so crop.
The Environmental Protection Agency bolstered their case in April when it raised the limit for ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent from 10 percent for cars made after 2001, later aiding the buying Haugerud had forecast. As for supply, Haugerud thought the Agriculture Department was overly optimistic in its harvest prediction. If farmers were planting in amounts not seen since 1937, her farm upbringing and commodities experience told her they were tapping marginal land. This all didn’t add up to a corn bonanza.
“Our research said that, at best, we were going to get an average yield,” she says. “The market was pricing in perfection.”
For a gut check, at month’s end, Haugerud flew to the firm’s research farm in southern Minnesota, near where she had grown up. As she scooped a handful of dirt, her confidence in her corn bet swelled. The dry soil crumbled. And the stalks were less than knee-high, with some well below average at 6 inches.
Her analyst, swinging through Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, reported that farmers were complaining about heat — a sign of impending drought.
“I was shocked how short the crop was,” says Haugerud, who, when not touring fields, is a chief investment officer overseeing five analysts and traders. “I’m a tire kicker, not a screen watcher.”
Haugerud is using her crop smarts to trounce rivals. Thirty-two states, from South Carolina to Nevada, have baked in the worst drought since 1956 during a year that toppled the 117-year-old U.S. heat record. Corn contracts hit $8.1775 a bushel July 30, more than $2.50 above March levels.
Haugerud, who sold her futures position that day, says grains and soybeans will keep up the momentum. Farmers are expected to harvest 10.7 billion bushels of corn, the smallest crop in six years, the Agriculture Department said in September. Soybeans had gained 37 percent this year through mid-September, the most among the 24 commodities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index.
“The second half of 2012 is going to be fantastic,” Haugerud says, adding that Galtere still holds options to gain from corn prices. “I better knock on wood,” she adds, jumping up to tap her desk. “I’ve had a breakout year every five to 10 years, and my last one was in 2002. I’d better knock on wood again.”