Much to give thanks for

Yeah, we’d all appreciate Thanksgiving more this year if the weather had stayed nice just a little longer.

But there’s still a lot to be thankful for as another year nears its final month. Livestock producers, especially folks who raise cattle, have the most to celebrate, thanks to strong meat prices.  Crop prices have plunged, so farmers need to look harder for positives. Even so, most folks who raise crops can find at least a few  things to give thanks for.

I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with relatives. I’ll  watch football, eat lasagna and hang out with my niece and nephew. It will be simple (for me, at least, since I don’t do any cooking) and satisfying.

From all of us at Agweek, Happy Thanksgiving.

So close to the finish line

The Upper Midwest harvest was so close to completion. Then winter arrived, early and nasty, leaving some producers with corn and sunflowers still in the fields.

I talked this morning with three Upper Midwest farmers. Two are done with harvest. The other has half of his corn remaining; he’s optimistic of getting the rest. It’s a very small sample size, of course, but it’s a pretty good representation of the overall picture nonetheless.

This year’s harvest brought a series of extremes. Wet early, then warm and dry. And now cold. Folks who harvested small grains were hurt by the early wet weather, but the overall harvest has gone well, despite winter’s arrival.

Look for a harvest story in the Nov. 24 print issue of Agweek.

And good luck to area farmers who have crops to bring in.

Ag: Home of cool, hi-tech stuff

A lot of people without strong ties to  U.S. agriculture seem to think of it as backward and low-tech. But those of us involved with it know the opposite is true.

The National Science Foundation has a series of articles about how technology is increasingly important  in modern ag. As the NSF notes, “Engineers have long provided ways to raise agricultural production and efficiency, harkening back to the plow and irrigation systems. They continue that work today. The potential payoff: a high-tech harvest of new tools and understanding of increasingly complex agricultural systems.”

Here’s the link to the NSF articles:

‘A form of madness’

I’m working this morning on a story about GM crops and two developments that would seem to strengthen the case for their use. In researching the story, however, I came across a report that the European Union has ousted its chief scientific adviser, a GM supporter.

Professor Anne Glover, formerly chief scientist of Scotland, had said that, “I am 99.99 per cent certain from the scientific evidence that there are no health issues with food produced from GM crops. Opposition to GM, and the benefits it can bring, is a form of madness I don’t understand.”

That upset opponents of GM crops, who pushed successfully to have her removed from her post as EU chief scientific adviser.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not qualified to judge whether GM crops are safe. But there’s one thing we can all agree on: GM crops are controversial.

Upset with high meat prices?

I visited some North Dakota livestock producers this week for a future Agweek story, and went out with them when they fed their animals

It was cold. Really cold. The day was raw, and the northwest wind was strong. The producers didn’t complain, though: working in cold weather in part of their job description.

Yeah, meat prices are climbing, and it can be easy for consumers to complain. They certainly have a right to do so. But I respectfully suggest that before they do, they ask themselves if they’d be willing to feed livestock during an Upper Midwest winter.

Farmers and ranchers enjoy hunting, too

Finishing harvest is the priority of Upper Midwest farmers right now. But a close second for many is filling their deer tag.

North Dakota’s deer gun season begins on Friday, Minnesota’s on Saturday. South Dakota’s season starts Nov. 15 in most of the area west of the Missouri River and Nov. 22 east of the river. Montana’s season began Oct. 25 and runs through Nov. 30.

Deer hunting is a big deal to many Upper Midwest farmers and ranchers. I have no statistics to support that, but it’s true. I know it because many of them have told me so. I know it because I’ve seen many of them out hunting.

Farmers and ranchers hunt, in part, because deer damage crops and hay supplies. Thinning out the deer reduces the damage.

But agriculturalists also hunt because they enjoy working across the land they own and rent, often in the company of their family and friends. It’s a tradition for most, which adds to the enjoyment.

Like many Agweek readers, I’ll be hunting this weekend. I’m a terrible shot (though a safe one), so I probably won’t hit anything. Wish me luck, because I’ll need it. Good luck to my fellow hunters.


No beef with prices

This spring, I listened to two retired ranchers talk about record cattle prices. We never saw prices anywhere near this good, they said. They just grunted when I kidded them about coming out of retirement to take advantage.

I wonder if they’re reconsidering. Cattle prices have continued to soar, reaching levels that experts describe as “phenomenal” and “fantastic.” The best bet is that prices won’t go much higher, but probably won’t fall back substantially anytime soon.

I grew up with beef cattle, and once owned a few myself. So I’m glad to see ranchers enjoying this stretch of prosperity. They need it, to offset the tough times that came before and doubtless will come again.

A great run for spring wheat production

Driving through central North Dakota on the Fourth of July this year, I was impressed by field after field of terrific-looking spring wheat. (I’d seen great stands of spring wheat elsewhere in the area earlier in the year, too.)  I told myself on the Fourth, “We’ve had so many good spring wheat crops these past few years. If we end up with another good one this fall, I’ll do a story.”

Well, the spring wheat harvest wasn’t easy — a long wet stretch stretched out harvest and hurt quality — but overall yields across the region were excellent. So, I’ve written a story, which is on the cover of the Nov. 3 issue of Agweek, that looks at the terrific multi-year run.  Much of the credit for the big years goes to favorable growing conditions, but a lot of  folks, including farmers, agronomists and scientists, played essential roles, too.

Good yields don’t guarantee a profit; far from it. Declining wheat prices and poor quality mean many farmers won’t make money with the crop, even with big yields. That said, having more bushels to sell is still a good thing — and the run of big spring wheat yields is a real success story.

Pat on the back for farm bill work

It can be easy to bash government employees. Sometimes they deserve it, sometimes they don’t. (That’s true for folks in any line of work, including journalism.)

It’s not so easy to give government employees a pat on the back when they deserve it. From I can tell, the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers the farm bill, deserves one now. The new farm bill contains complicated provisions that will affect farmers for the next five years, and FSA, at least in the Upper Midwest, appears to be doing its best to help farmers understand their choices.

Farmers and others in ag may not say so publicly, but they definitely realize that FSA is trying. They might feel otherwise in five years — or even five months — but, at least for now, they’re appreciative.

Remember the big issue in ag a year ago?

An area ag commodity group leader and I were talking this week about the long decline in grain prices. He searched for 10 seconds or so to find the year-ago price of his commodity, but couldn’t locate it. “That’s strange. I wonder why it’s not there,” he said.

Then he came up with the explanation. “Oh, the government shutdown,” he said. The year-ago number wasn’t available because the federal government officials who normally prepared it weren’t on the job.

Well, until he mentioned it, I’d forgotten about the 2013 shutdown, even though I wrote a number of stories about it back then. At the time, it was a really big deal in ag.

That’s the way it is in agriculture, journalism and life. We get through one crisis and move on to the next one.

I have no idea what the next crisis in ag will be. I just hope it holds off until harvest is finished.