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About Jonathan Knutson

I'm a North Dakota farm kid, with relatives and friends who farm. Spent my career at North Dakota newspapers, covering agriculture and business

Congratulations on a big anniversary

Sheep fly under the radar, both nationally and in the Upper Midwest. Their numbers have been declining for years, and their wool and meat aren’t as popular as they once were.

But there’s good reason for optimism in the sheep industry. I looked at the industry’s upbeat mood in an Agweek cover story earlier this winter. You can read the story here: www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24519/.

Whatever the future holds, this is a memorable week for sheep producers. The American Sheep Industry Association is holding its 150th annual convention in Reno, Nev. The event began Wednesday and wraps up Saturday.

It’s a great milestone. Congratulations to the association and its members.

KMOT time again

I’m in Minot, N.D., tonight and will get over early Wednesday for the annual KMOT Ag Expo, which runs Jan. 28-30. It’s one of the region’s biggest  farm shows, and I always enjoy seeing the exhibits and visiting with folks.

Drop me an email, or leave me a note at the Agweek booth, if you have a product or service you want to show off.

The howl of wolves and ranchers

Earlier this winter I learned that a federal judge had restored endangered species protection to gray wolves in Minnesota. I immediately began cranking out an online story for Agweek. Once the story was written and posted, I started to search for a Minnesota rancher with wolf problems who would let me visit his operation.

I made that visit last week. What the rancher had to say will be a key part of my cover story in the Jan. 26 issue of our magazine.

I first worked on the issue in 2012, when gray wolves were removed from federal endangered species protection, a process commonly known as delisting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the species was re-established well enough in Minnesota that federal protection was no longer needed. Minnesota ranchers were pleased, to say the least. Now, they’re displeased/angry/frustrated/outraged by the judge’s ruling.

My upcoming cover story has comments from ranchers, wolf supporters, wolf experts and others. It’s a controversial issue that generate strong feelings, and I certainly heard diverse opinions and judgments.

I enjoyed working on the story. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

I’d like to buy the world a milk

I’m working today on an upcoming story about the Upper Midwest dairy industry, and an industry official mentioned what could be a potentially huge new market for his product.

Coca-Cola is preparing the nationwide launch later this year of Fairlife, a high-end milk.  The soft-drink giant says Fairlife has more protein and calcium than standard milk, half the sugar, and is lactose-free. It also will cost substantially more than standard milk, according to published reports.

I have no idea whether Fairlife will succeed. But I do know that the folks who run Coca-Cola are extremely shrewd. (The company gave us the classic 1971 ad jingle, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”)

If you have any thoughts on Fairlife, drop me a line.

He’s a farmer/photographer

Farms come in many shapes and sizes, and the people who run them sometimes wear more than one hat.

Eric Hylden, who operates a small farm near Park River, N.D., is featured in the January issue of the Northarvest BeanGrower magazine. Eric also is a staff photographer for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which, like Agweek, is part of the Forum Communications Co.

The article explains how and why Eric started farming, and mentions how much he enjoys  working with his 91-year-old father. Dry beans are among the crops they grow. It’s a short article, but a good one.

Here’s a link to the www.northarvestbean.org/userfiles/file/Volume21Issue1Web.pdf. Look under “Pulse of the Industry.”

If you know of anyone else like Eric, who combines farming with another career, drop me a line.

Wolves!

Years ago, in a high school English class, I read a short story about a villain in ancient Europe who’s fleeing through the woods in a sleigh. He thinks he’s getting away and avoiding punishment for his crime. Then he hears noise in the distance and realizes justice is catching up with him. The story ends like this:

Wolves!

I’m working this week on a future Agweek cover story about reaction to a federal judge’s ruling that restores endangered species protection to gray wolves in Minnesota. It’s a controversial issue that raises strong feelings.

To a lot of Minnesota ranchers, especially ones who have lost cattle to wolves, the ruling is a big mistake.

To wolf supporters, the animals are misunderstood and don’t deserve the bad reputation they hold in some circles. (No doubt the supporters would say the short story’s ending is just one sign of that unfair rap.)

I’m talking to folks in both camps, and to others, to better understand the issue. It’s an interesting and important story, and represents what I enjoy most about covering agriculture.

Drop me a line if you have any thoughts about wolves and cattle, in Minnesota or elsewhere.

Updated: You may find this amusing

I’m passing on this joke/witticism that I heard from a North Dakota State University Extension Service official:

It’s 2048, and the United States has elected its first female president. She has strong North Dakota ties, and her parents still live there. She invites them to her swearing-in ceremony. They’re extremely modest, low-key people and are reluctant to attend. But she persists and eventually they agree to come. They’re sitting on the dais as she’s being sworn in. Her father, overcome with pride and emotion, leans over to a prominent U.S. senator who’s sitting nearby and says, “See that woman with her hand on the Bible?” The senator nods. The father says, “Did you know she has two brothers who played football for the Bison?”

The NDSU Bison football team plays Saturday for its fourth straight national championship. It’s been a glorious run, which includes victories over universities from adjacent states. Let’s just say that’s been mentioned, more than once, in Upper Midwest ag circles. Yeah, good crop prices and yields are important — but those college football games are what really matter.

Good luck to the Bison.

Update: The Bison won Sunday’s game, which featured an exciting offense-filled fourth quarter. The four-peat is a remarkable achievement; congratulations.

 

Time to try organic milk

I deal with a lot of farmers and ranchers, who raise a lot of different food items. Sometimes, after hearing the producers talk about what they raise, I try the item myself. It helps me learn more about the product and, in a very small way, thanks the producer for visiting with me.

I recently interviewed a Minnesota farm family that produces organic milk. I’m not into organic food personally (though I believe strongly in giving the organic option to consumers and farmers), but I’m going to give organic milk a shot.

If you drink organic milk regularly, drop me a line.

You can read the story about the Minnesota farm family, which looks at the value of raising both crops and livestock, in the Jan. 12 issue of Agweek.

A small win in an ongoing battle

I wrote an Agweek cover story in 2013 that looked at public-sector funding for agricultural research, which is declining after inflation is factored in. It’s a huge concern in ag, and rightly so.

Last month I wrote another cover story that looked at reasons for optimism in the U.S. sheep industry. On the downside, however, there was concern that the U.S. Department of Agriculture might  close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station at Dubois, Iowa.

Now, USDA Chief Scientist Catherine Woteki, who I interviewed for the 2013 story, says the sheep experiment station will remain open in fiscal year 2015 but move to the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) at Clay Center, Neb., “to take advantage of the current research infrastructure at MARC in genetics, genomics, nutrition and reproduction.”  She also says that while sheep production research is a priority for her department, budget realities require difficult decisions.

Woteki, no doubt, is doing the best she can in a difficult situation. Allocating limited research money can’t be a pleasant job when so much valuable ag research needs to be done.

I’m all in favor on government being careful with its spending. But ag research is a poor place to save a few bucks.

 

Listening to an opposing view

A smart person once told me that just about everyone shares this weakness: we’re all prone to ignoring opposing viewpoints, focusing instead on listening to like-minded people who reinforce what we already believe.

It’s fair to say, I think, that few Upper Midwest agriculturalists spend much, if any, time listening to the arguments of animal rights supporters. That’s unfortunate. Animal rights supporters wield growing influence, and their beliefs, whether right or wrong, matter.

So I jumped at the chance to interview James McWilliams, a prominent animal rights supporter who’s written a new book, The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals. We had a pleasant, productive phone interview. I learned more about his beliefs, he thanked me for asking good questions. (I grew up with beef cows, I’ve owned beef cows, I’m not a vegetarian and almost certainly never will become one. But, yes, I’d like to think I treated him fairly and asked good questions.)

You can read my article about the interview in the Jan. 5 issue of Agweek.