Enjoy science, technology?

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I’m ambivalent about this blog entry. It involves devastating drought, something all of us involved in ag hate to see. But it also involves some really cool science and technology, which most of us in ag enjoy.

The image above from NASA shows, in brown, where there’s less vegetation than normal in central California and, in blue/green, where there’s more vegetation than usual. The image shows clearly how bad the drought is.

This NASA link click here has many images, and other information, that might help aggies around world. If you like cool science and and technology — or are looking for ways to farm and ranch more profitably — check out the site.

Of corn, soybeans and tribbles

One of the best-known and most-popular episodes of the original “Star Trek” series deals with tribbles, a small, furry creature that breeds and multiplies dangerously fast.

In the episode, their numbers have grown so much that they’re overrunning the Enterprise. The exasperated Capt. Kirk orders them removed from his ship. Series regular Lt. Uhura protests, saying, in effect, that tribbles provide love. Kirk shakes his head wearily and says, “Too much of anything, even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.”

I thought of tribbles when working on the Nov. 16 Agweek cover article. It looks at research that makes the case for crop diversity, for mixing in a few other crops to the basic corn-soybean rotation. Doing so helps fight weeds, insects and crop disease, and can enhance soil enhance.

Yeah, corn and soybeans are great crops, America’s most important and prominent crops. But too much of anything, even corn and soybeans, isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The key question, of course, is how much is too much? The answer varies from area to area — what’s best in, say, Iowa, won’t be best in northern North Dakota — and even from farm to farm. Good farmers, and just about everybody who’s left in farming is good at it, will study the research and make the right decision for their individual operation. As one corn and soybean producer told me, farmers adopt — but it doesn’t happen overnight.

Drop me a line if you have any thoughts about crop diversity. And let me know if “The Trouble with Tribbles” is your favorite Star Trek episode.

Back by popular demand

I wrote several Agweek articles in 2011 about the pending demise of the University of Minnesota Crookston ag education major program. State budget cuts caused UMC to discontinue the program, much to the frustration of aggies. They said the area already faced a shortage of ag education teachers and that interest in the UMC program, established in 2000, was growing.

Now, UMC has received state approval to resume offering ag education majors. It’s great news for UMC — and for area agriculture. The shortage of ag education teachers is real; more are needed. A new crop from UMC will help.

I’ll have a story on the UMC program in the Nov. 16 print edition of our magazine.

The (successful) crack of rifles once again UPDATED

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UPDATED: It’s better to be lucky than good. I managed to shoot a nice-sized doe over the weekend during the North Dakota deer gun season. It wasn’t a particularly hard shot, but it wasn’t an easy one, either, and my six-decade-old 30-30 rifle came through again.

Thanks to Blake, Jon, Lynn and Mike, who were along on the hunt this year.

Special thanks, as always, to my father and younger brother for their continued support, patience and presence.


North Dakota’s deer gun season begins Friday. I’ll be hunting with my dad, brother and a few other relatives and family friends on my family farm in central North Dakota.

Deer hunting is a tradition among agriculturalists in the Upper Midwest. Being out with family and friends, often on land we farm or pass by regularly, is satisfying in a way that’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it personally.

I may be the world’s poorest shot — being too lazy to practice sure doesn’t help — but I’m always safe and careful.

Hard as it to believe, I once shot a buck far bigger than the one shown in the stock image above. I’d gladly settle for a smaller one this year, though.

Good luck to all my fellow hunters.

Are you up for an Agweek poll?

We’re always looking for ways to make our Agweek web site more interesting and useful. One of the things we’ve done recently is adding reader polls. New ones are put online regularly on timely, important or controversial agricultural issues. The latest — on whether farmers will turn a profit this crop season — is up now at www.agweek.com.

We think the polls are a fun feature. We hope you agree.

So visit our web site. Take our polls. And drop me a line if you have any suggestions for future ones.

Mars’ favorite vegetable

“The Martian” movie is getting a lot of attention, and I went to see it yesterday. An entertaining and well-done film.

As an ag journalist who lives and works in an area where potatoes are an important crop, I particularly enjoyed the prominent role that potatoes played in the movie. The U.S. potato industry likes to say that it represents “America’s favorite vegetable.” Spuds can claim that honor on Mars, too, based on the movie.

My Nov. 2 cover story in Agweek will look at real-world potato research at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in East Grand Forks, Minn. The word “unique” is overused and often misused, but the East Grand Forks site really is one of a kind.

Agricultural research isn’t glamorous and seldom gets much attention outside ag. But those of us in ag know how crucial it is.

The future face of the $10 bill?

The U.S. Treasury Department plans to make a woman the new face of the $10 bill, with the new bill expected to enter circulation in 2020. Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks are said to be among the possibilities.

A team of University of California-Davis scientists is campaigning for a woman that few Americans have heard of: Barbara McClintock, a Nobel laureate and groundbreaking geneticist who was active from the 1920s to 1950s.

Decide for yourself if she’s the best choice for the $10 bill. But this much I do know: the importance of genetic research to agriculture and the world in general can’t be overstated, and it’s great that McClintock and her work are getting some much-deserved attention.

To learn more.

Hoping for good things to happen to good people

Journalists need to be fair and even-handed. Perceptions vary of what those words mean and how they should be put into practice, but they’re what I strive for.

That doesn’t prevent me from hoping that good things happen to good people I write about, though. A year ago, I began following the job search of a college senior majoring in agriculture. He hoped to land a job working with livestock, and he recently did. (The rancher who hired him learned of him through an Agweek article I’d written.) I’ll have a story on the young man’s new job in the Oct. 19 print issue of our magazine.

Yes, I really do try to be fair and even-handed. And, yes, I take satisfaction when good things happen to good people that I write about.

Fall rains: farmers love ’em, hate ’em

Fall rains are both a blessing and curse for Upper Midwest agriculture.

Precipitation in September and early October can hamper harvest, or even stop it completely. Few things in farming are as frustrating as being shut down by rain delays when crop in the field needs to be harvested.

But September/early October rains also can recharge soil moisture, brightening the outlook for the next year’s crop. Few things in farming are more satisfying than seeing fall rains sink into fields that need them.

Farmers have a love-hate relationship with fall rains, one that’s likely to grow even stronger. Our falls, on balance, are becoming wetter — and that’s cause for both groans and cheers.

Harvest speeds along

It was early November 2009, and I was driving through northwest Minnesota. I saw field after field of unharvested soybeans, the still-muddy soil a stark reminder of the frequent, frustrating October rains that had prevented farmers from getting their beans. Producers were trying hard (and without complete success) not to worry. The beans eventually were harvested, but it was a challenging, nerve-wracking time.

Harvests like that one makes this year’s harvest even more satisfying. Though recent showers shut down harvest temporarily, soybean producers across the Upper Midwest have taken full advantage of wonderful weather. Many farmers are done, or nearly so, with their soybeans.

I’m expecting to spend time Wednesday, Oct. 7, with a North Dakota farmer while he combines the last of his soybeans.

Harvest isn’t finished yet, of course, especially for farmers who raise corn, too. It’s too early to declare victory. But harvest is speeding along, and the finish line is nearly in sight. A few more weeks of favorable weather would get us close.

My cover package in the Oct. 19 issue of Agweek will look at harvest progress across the Upper Midwest.