Aggies will like this photo

CARRINGTON, N.D. — I was at the Carrington NDSU Extension Research Center recently for an upcoming story and spotted the sign here. It’s encased in glass and there’s some glare, which hurts the photo quality — but I’m sure area aggies will agree with the sentiment.

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Agriculturalists — farmers, ranchers, seed salesmen, agronomists and all the others who play a vital role in modern ag — do it primarly to support themselves and their families. That’s a good and sufficient reason. But, yeah, most aggies I know really do think they’re in a noble profession.

Can you guess why he grows tomatoes?

LARIMORE, N.D. — Carl Hoverson of Hoverson Farms in Larimore, N.D., is one of the region’s biggest potato farmers. But he raises tomatoes, too — well, a few of ’em, anyway.

I visited Hoverson’s operation today for an upcoming Agweek story (which you can read in our July 27 issue) on a big potato industry meeting. Next to his office is a garden plot with a few tomato plants.

“Twenty guesses of why we have tomatoes there,” he told me.

The answer: tomatoes, like potatoes, are suspectible to late blight, a disease that can hammer both yields and quality in spuds. Hoverson walks by the tomato plants nearly every day, helping him to assess the threat of late blight to his potatoes.

The region’s potato crop has avoided late blight so far this growing season. Recent warm weather helps to reduce the threat.

Good luck to Hoverson and other potato growers on late blight. And I hope his tomato crop turns out well.

Congratulations are in order

Congratulations to Brian O’Toole. The Crystal, N.D., farmer has just been installed as chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes wheat exports worldwide.
Copy of O'Toole,Brian

He was elected to the post this winter. I wrote about it then: Click here.

I’ve also written about his family farm’s generational transition: Click here.

It’s no secret that wheat has lost acres to corn and soybeans in the Upper Midwest. I’m not nearly smart enough to know when, if ever, wheat will regain some or all of those acres.

But here’s what I do know:

— Wheat remains a good fit agronomically in this part of the world, and the crop will continue to be grown here.

— The more wheat we export, the better its price will be.

— Farmers are busy, but taking time to promote their crops, as O’Toole is doing, is time well spent.

Wow, what a day for crops!

A basic rule of writing is to reserve exclamation points for really important occasions such as “Fire!” and “Help!”

I’m biased as an aggie, but I think Thursday’s ideal crop-growing weather warrants an exclamation point.

I had Thursday off and spent it at my family farm in central North Dakota. The temperature was in the mid 80s — warm enough to help corn and soybeans but not too hot to hurt wheat — and the gentle breeze and moderate humidity were great, too.

The Upper Midwest is a big place, of course. No doubt many parts of it didn’t enjoy the same ideal growing conditions as my neck of the woods.

But in my own, first-hand experience, Thursday was special. Wow, what a day for crops!

Differing takes on key ag issues

It’s no secret that scientists and the general public sometimes view things differently.

Some newly released statistics from the Pew Research Center make that clear. The group found huge differences between the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on several issues that are important to modern agriculture:

— On GMO foods: 88 percent of AAAS members say they’re safe to eat, 37 percent of public says they’re safe to eat.

— On eating food grown with pesticides: 68 percent of AAAS members say it’s safe, 28 percent of the public say it’s safe.

— On using animals in research: 89 percent of AAAS members approve, 47 percent of the public approve.

It’s fair to say, I think, that mainstream agriculturalists generally side with the scientists on these three issues.

A nasty weekend

I love living in the Upper Midwest and covering agriculture — but not when the weather turns as violent and destructive as it did this past weekend. Hail and tornadoes rumbled through the area, a scary and painful reminder of how powerful nature can be.

Storm damage to crops is still being ascertained as I write this Monday morning. The full extent won’t be known for days, but we should have a pretty good idea before long.

I’ll be on the road Monday in eastern North Dakota, and will get a better handle on conditions there.

I hope you avoided the worst of the damage. But if you got hammered — or were fortunate enough to avoid the bad weather — drop me a line.

Google Doodle for Soils?

The is the International Year of Soils, according to the United Nations.

Now, the Soil Science Society of America has its sights on a new honor: A Google Doodle for soil on Dec. 5, which will be World Soil Day.

The soil science group notes that roughly two billion people use Google every day, and that Google Doodles — animations of the Google logo that display at the start of a Google search — have a huge audience.

If you support a Google Doodle for soils, you can write to proposals@google.com and explain why you think soil deserves one. The deadline is July 15.

Kudos to the Soil Science Society of America for its efforts on this. Those of us involved in production agriculture understand the vital importance of soil. People outside ag may not — and a Google Doodle could help to change that.

Wonderful weather for wheat

A year ago at this time, I was impressed by the many fields of fine-looking wheat I saw across Agweek country. In the fall of 2014, I did a cover story on the run of strong wheat crops that the region has enjoyed in recent years.

The wheat crop looks terrific this year. Sure, there are areas hurt by too much rain, or too little. But the crop overall looks terrific. Wheat, a cool-season grass, thrives in warm-but-not-hot weather, and the region has had a lot of that.

It’s a long way to go until harvest, of course, and much can go wrong. But for now, at least, most farmers who planted wheat are glad they did.

A Father’s Day gift for aggies (or not)

My June 15 Agweek cover story looked at New Zealand legislation that designates animals as “sentient beings.” The story examines the fundamentally different way in which animal rights supporters and folks in the livestock industry view the world. I tried to treat both sides fairly, objectively and respectfully, and I think I succeeded.

Since the story ran, I’ve received some feedback from several area agriculturalists. They expressed their frustration with the animal rights movement and questioned why an ag publication gives it any credence. I explained that it’s my job to tell all sides, which the area aggies seemed to understand.

In any case, in preparing the story, I emailed PETA to get its thoughts on the legislation. Now, with my email address in its database, the organization is sending me emails promoting itself and its causes. (Which it certainly has the right to do.)

The most recent PETA email encourages me to donate money as a Father’s Day gift. Well, that’s not gonna happen. My dad, a retired North Dakota rancher, isn’t exactly a fan of the organization.

Another good, green summer?

I talked this afternoon with an ag producer in western North Dakota. I asked about recent rains and how crops and pastures in his area are shaping up.

There was joy in his voice as he talked about the many small rains that have combined to provide enough, but not too much, moisture. “It’s really greening up,” he said.

Last summer was good and green, and a repeat is possible this year, he said.

Some Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers have been hit with too much rain recently. My condolences to them.

Congratulations to those who have received the right amount. I hope a good, green summer awaits you.