A sky-high eye on sheep herding

There’s a lot of talk about potential uses for drones in agriculture. One of those uses — and one I wouldn’t have thought of — is coming up with some really unusual video.

The American Sheep Industry Association passes along this drone video of hundreds of sheep being herded in New Zealand. The sheep look almost like clouds or birds.

I’ll pass it along, in turn.

Watch the video here: Sheep herding

Of sheep and statistics

sheepphotoStatistics can be interpreted in different ways, and that’s certainly true with gains and losses in crop and livestock production.

Here’s a hypthetical example: State A increases its annual production of a particular commodity from 1 million to 1.1 million bushels; that’s both a 100,000-bushel increase and a 10-percent increase. State B increases its annual production of that commodity from 50,000 to 60,000 bushel; that’s both a 10,000-bushel increase and a 20-percent increase.

So, which state saw a bigger increase? State A, with the larger bushel increase? Or State B, with the larger percentage increase.

North Dakota led the nation with a 14-percent increase in sheep numbers in 2015, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some other states, including Montana, saw a bigger increase in sheep numbers. But because those states were starting with more sheep, their percentage increase was smaller than North Dakota’s.

Well, the real winner is the U.S. sheep industry, which continues to rally after decades of decline. I’m happy for all the good people in the industry.

Read my story of rising U.S. sheep numbers, which includes comments from North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota and national sheep officials, in the Feb. 15 issue of Agweek.

Winners and losers in Iowa

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s primary victory in corn-rich Iowa is seen by some as a loss for the nation’s biofuels program.

Pro-ethanol, pro-Renewable Fuel Standard folks beg to differ. They say in an email that “an impressive 83 percent of (Iowa) voters supported candidates” who favor the RFS. What’s more, they say in the email, only 32.2 percent of Iowa Republicans supported anti-RFS candidates this year, down from 36.9 percent in the 2012 primary.

Further, 100 percent of Democrats supported pro-RFS candidates in both 2012 and 2016, the email says.

So, did renewable fuels win or lose in Iowa?

Well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. And decide for yourself how to interpret the numbers.

Time to tough it out

I’m back in the office after spending two days at the KMOT Ag Expo in Minot, N.D. As always, I ran into a lot of familiar faces, as well as meeting many new-to-me aggies, at the event, which ends Friday, Jan. 29.

My big takeaway:

There’s definitely concern in ag circles. Crop prices are so low that farmers will be hard-pressed to turn a profit this year, even if the weather cooperates and brings good yields.

But there’s no panic or desperation, either. The aggies I talked with at the Ag Expo reinforced what I’ve heard elsewhere: most producers should be able to tough out 2016. Still, higher crop prices would be welcome indeed.

Back in the Magic City

Minot, N.D. — I’m here in Minot, sometimes known as the Magic City, for the annual KMOT Ag Expo. It’s a big deal in the region’s winter “meeting season” — and so of course it’s important to Agweek and to me.

If you plan to attend, too, and would like to visit, let me know. The best way to reach me is through email, jknutson@agweek.com.

The roads and weather are great, and are expected to stay that way for several days, which bodes well for attendance.

Again, if you plan to attend and want to visit, please let me know.

Of elk, expansion and extirpation

I’ve just finished writing my next Agweek cover story, which looks at a controversial plan to expand the wild elk herd in northwest Minnesota.

Supporters say more elk would lead to more hunting and tourism, and bring valuable economic benefits.

Ranchers say elk damage fence, crops and hay, and that more elk would do even more damage.

In researching the story I learned that elk once were common in much of Minnesota, but were “extirpated” in the state by the early 20th century. Extirpation means becoming extinct in a specific geographic area.

Well, elk were reintroduced to northwest Minnesota, and three separate free-range herds live there now.

Elk expansion is a two-sided issue that reflects nationwide difficulties in balancing ag and nonag interests. It also reflects aggies’ frequent contention that their interests are ignored or overlooked.

My story, the cover story of the Jan. 25 issue of Agweek, definitely gives both sides.

Milestone for a retired aggie

I’ve read that it was a really big deal two centuries when John Newton, the guy who wrote “Amazing Grace”, hit 80 years of age. He had lived an incredible life, full of amazing things both good and life — but to reach 80, well, hardly anyone did that.

Being an octogenarian isn’t all that unusual these guys. A growing number of folks, including many Agweek readers and other aggies, are 80 and older.

But even though 80th birthdays aren’t nearly as noteworthy as they once were, I want to congratulate my father, a retired North Dakota farmer and rancher, on turning 80. He’s in warm, sunny Texas this winter, surrounded by a lot of other 80-somethings, including many retired Upper Midwest and Canadian aggies. His comment (one I think a lot of Agweek readers can relate to): “People used to get a special dinner in church when they turned 80. But it’s so common now they don’t bother.”

Congratulations, Dad.

The No. 1 in sunflowers


I’ve written it more than a few times through the years: “North Dakota, normally the nation’s leading sunflower producer”. The state is well suited for the crop, and North Dakota farmers are good are growing it.

But South Dakota, for the third straight year, led the nation in ‘flower production in 2015. Like their counterparts to the north, South Dakota farmers are good are growing it. And like the Peace Garden State, the Mount Rushmore State is well suited for it.

John Sandbakken, executive director of the National Sunflower Association, tells me that some South Dakota farmers harvested 3,000 pounds of ‘flowers per acre last year — and that some North Dakota farmers harvested 2,500 pounds per acre. Those are fantastic numbers and will encourage producers in both states to keep growing.

In any case, I’ll need to remind myself to quit writing, “North Dakota, normally the nation’s leading sunflower producer.”

That thundering swoosh to the south

Update: As you no doubt have heard, the Bison football team won its fifth straight championship on Saturday. Wow! What a run!

As a North Dakota-based ag journalist, I often talk with folks who have close ties to North Dakota State University. For the fifth straight year, that’s a little more difficult in early January.

The NDSU Bison football team — the Thundering Herd — is once again playing for the national championship in Frisco, Texas. The game, against Jacksonville State, is Saturday.

Getting to the chamionship game even once is a major accomplishment; winning it four years in a row, as the Bison have done, and returning this year is fantastic. Congrats to the Bison.

Of course, thousands of loyal Bison fans — including a few folks I’ve wanted to talk with on the phone — have made their now-annual trek to Frisco. Their departure, by car, pickup, bus and plane, is like a thundering swoosh to the south.

And the NDSU folks I want to talk with — well, I hope they’ll be available Monday.

Like many Agweek readers — the ones who aren’t in Frisco, that is — I’ll be watching the game on TV.

Good luck to the Herd.

Definitely a story with two sides

I was talking on the phone with a Minnesota rancher about cattle prices when he mentioned a state agency’s plan to expand elk numbers in northwest Minnesota, home to all wild elk in the state.

He was in his tractor at the time and I had a hard time hearing him clearly, but his concern was unmistakeable. “We don’t have anything against elk, but a lot of people don’t understand our side of it. They don’t realize how much damage elk can do,” he said.

As soon as he said it, I decided an Agweek cover story is in order. Yeah, there’s strong interest in expanding wild elk numbers in Minnesota: doing so would mean more hunting and viewing opportunities, understandably important to some people. But expanding the elk herd also would hurt fences, hay and other property, and generally cause stress and financial loss to ranchers in the area.

I’m traveling to northwest Minnesota today to visit with ranchers there. The Agweek cover story will run later in the month.

It’s said every story has two sides. That’s definitely true in this case — and my story will have both sides.