There’s a farmer I know who just harvested a late-planted field of spring wheat. The straw stand looked good, but the amount of grain fell short of what the straw indicated — a common occurrence on the Northern Plains this fall.
The farmer wasn’t complaining, though. Even with the smaller-than-expected yield, he benefited from strong prices and grossed nearly $250 per acre. To put that in perspective, North Dakota farmers averaged $85.50 to $141.02 per acre with spring wheat from 1999 to 2006.
Yeah, expenses have risen sharply over the past decade. Yeah, it’s disappointing to get a smaller-than-expected crop when prices are good. And, yeah, the wet spring prevented far too many area farmers from planting their crops.
The point is, a lot of area farmers have endured much tougher years financially than this one. I’m not minimizing the disappointment of being unable to take better advantage of high prices or the extra effort that wet conditions have required. I’m just sayin’, things could be worse.
North Dakota’s booming oil patch really hasn’t been part of my life, either personally or professionally. So I was excited to visit Tioga, N.D., which bills itself as the state’s oil capital, and get a first-hand look at what’s happening.
The amount of oil industry activity there is just amazing. The short visit certainly didn’t make me an expert, but the experience was enlightening. Next time I hear western North Dakotans complain about their beat-up roads dominated by oil industry vehicles and equipment, I’ll be able to relate.
I traveled to Tioga to visit with a woman and her two sons who are all veterans of both family farming and the oil industry. They have some interesting insights on balancing the needs and interests of oil and ag.
The story is on the cover of the Sept. 26 issue of Agweek.
The U.S. economy keeps sputtering, and even bright-eyed optimists don’t expect an immediate rebound.
But U.S agricultural exports continue to fare well. One sign of that: U.S. potato exports reached a record $1.35 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30. The Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is a key spud-producing area, so that’s good news here.
Overall, U.S. ag exports and its ag trade balance are strong, too. In July, the United States exported $9.7 billion in ag products and imported $7.8 billion in ag products, leaving a trade balance of $1.9 billion. In July 2010, we exported $7.9 billion and imported $6.6 billion of ag imports, leaving a trade balance of $1.3 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
USDA predicted previously that the U.S. will have an ag trade balance of $41 billion this fiscal year, making ag one of the few major sectors in the U.S. economy with a surplus.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says U.S. ag exports will support more than 1 million American jobs this year.
How much weaker would the U.S. economy be without robust ag exports? Let’s hope we never find out.
Frost, and the threat of it, has returned to the Upper Midwest.
Gardeners are protecting their veggies. City residents are lamenting the end of summer and the coming of winter.
Farmers are worrying about their crops. Even a few extra days without frost would give still-maturing crops a little more time to reach, or nearly reach, their potential. That can improve yields, quality and profits.
It’s impossible to say how much damage frost this week might do. The answer depends on how far the temperature dips and how long below freezing the mercury stays, among other factors.
One thing is certain: the region’s late spring delayed planting, which means many fields aren’t as advanced as normal and are at greater risk than usual from frost.
Back in the day, on our family farm, we fed small hay bales to cattle from a pickup in the winter and spring. Once, when I was in high school, I was doing the job alone on a cold winter day when “Big Iron” by the great Marty Robbins began playing on the pickup radio. Naturally, like any self-respecting American would have done, I cranked up the volume. The cows were a bit startled at first, but I’d like to think they enjoyed it, too.
Just like the classic song, the Big Iron Farm Show — held Sept. 13-15 this year, at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo, N.D. — has made its mark. Adding an international trade component to the show four years ago made the event even stronger.
I’ll be at Big Iron again this year, of course. My time there will include a stint in the Agweek booth (C-41 in the Commercial Building) from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday the 13th. Be sure to drop by to say hello and share any suggestions or story ideas.
One suggestion: Before you come to Big Iron, get out your Mary Robbins’ album, tape or CD (if you don’t have one, buy one) and listen to “Big Iron.” His “El Paso” is awesome, too. They don’t make songs like that anymore.
Northwestern North Dakota frequently is short of moisture. This spring, the area had far too much.
Millions of acres went unplanted, and many of the fields that were planted are less advanced than usual. I was in northwestern North Dakota recently and saw some unusual sights, at least for that part of the world.
Read my cover story on that area’s strange harvest in the Sept. 5 issue of Agweek.