Guys and gals in ag

I was on the phone this morning with an area agriculturalist who, in talking about farmers as a whole, used the term “guys.”

He stopped himself for a moment before saying, “I don’t mean to be sexist. There are women, too. Guys and gals is how I should have put it.”

If you know anything about agspeak, you know he wasn’t being sexist, at least not deliberately so. That’s just the way a lot of people in ag talk. In agspeak, farmers aren’t farmers — they’re guys. As in “Guys are planting more wheat this year” or “Guys aren’t sure yet what they’ll be planting.”

Women play an increasingly important and diverse role in agriculture. That’s great. That’s how it should be. But given that, is it OK to continue to refer to farmers as “guys?”

Well, a lot of Americans, especially younger ones, use “guys” to refer to people in general . To me, the word has become a generic expression that covers both genders. To me, it’s OK to call farmers “guys.”

If any of you guys or gals feel differently, drop me a line.

‘Do a rain dance’

I just got off the phone with an Oklahoma farmer who raises winter canola. (North Dakota, which raises the spring version of the crop, is the nation’s leading canola producer.)

He says drought continues to hammer his state’s crops, including canola. Today’s temperatures are expected to hit 90 and rain isn’t forecast, so crops will continue to go downhill.

“Do a rain dance,” he says of the situation.

Yeah, it’s dry in parts of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana, drier than farmers there would like. But things could be worse; what’s happening in Oklahoma shows that.

Updated: Farming’s version of March Madness

My first, fast look at the Perspective Planting report is now online at the Agweek web site. Look for an expanded version of the story in the April 6 print issue of our magazine:


March Madness is what the NCAA calls its annual men’s basketball tournament during the month. It’s a catchy marketing term, of course, but it’s not pure exaggeration. A lot of people are passionate, sometimes obsessively so, about the tournament.

It’ a stretch, I know, but the annual Prospective Planting report issued on the last working day of March reminds me a bit of March Madness. The report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s best guess of how many acres will be planted to which crops this spring, is a big deal in area ag circles. It influences crop prices and, in turn, affects farmers’ final planting decisions. A great deal of time and effort goes into anticipating what the report will say and then analyzing it after it’s released.

Being first isn’t always best

I talked on the phone today with a South Dakota farmer. Producers in his area might begin planting spring wheat early next week, provided the weather cooperates, he told me.

He also told me he’s heard anecdotal reports that some North Dakota farmers are planting wheat. He was dubious, to say the least, that planting wheat in North Dakota ahead of wheat in South Dakota is a good idea.

It’s a truism that some farmers enjoy the bragging rights of being first in their immediate area to start planting every year. Maybe they’re wise to start so early, maybe they’re not — but they were first, and that’s what matters.

If you’ve planted early — especially on a hilltop or light, sandy soil — it might work out just fine. But, like that South Dakota farmer, I’m dubious.

Taking to the field (baseball and crop)

The Minnesota Twins take to the field, at least for the start of the major league season, April 6 at Detroit. I’m optimistic about the Twins’ long-term future (their minor league system is strong), but the 2015 season isn’t promising.

Likewise, I’m optimistic about Upper Midwest’s ag long-term future, but uncertain what the 2015 growing season will bring. An early start would help — early planted crops usually fare better than late-planted ones — and  just avoiding the soggy, stressful springs of 2013 and 2014 would be welcome.

Think you’ll be in the field before the Twins open in Detroit? If so, drop me a line.

Safety is job one in agriculture

I attended a farm safety meeting this week. Organized by the Grand Forks (N.D.) County Farm Bureau, the meeting was a useful, timely refresher course on things farmers generally know already. My story on the event runs in the March 16 issue of Agweek. Three things to stress here:

— The Grand Forks County Farm Bureau deserves a pat on the back for hosting the event.  County farm groups play a vital role in Upper Midwest ag, and the Grand Forks County farm safety meeting is a fine example.

— I knew about the meeting because one of the group’s members contacted me in advance and invited me to attend. The timing and distance worked out, so I was able to get there. I can’t promise to attend every event to which I’m invited — but I do promise to consider it. At the very least, and if you give me enough advance notification, we’ll list your event in our weekly calendar.

— The most important thing in agriculture is safety. Yeah, farmers know that. They believe it. They practice it. But sometimes, when we get busy and stressed, we rush and do things we otherwise wouldn’t. During the busy, stressful planting season, please practice what a farmer at the farm safety meeting told me:

“Slow down and think.”

Small world in Upper Midwest ag

It was 2009, and I was covering a tour of eastern North Dakota tile drainage sites. Also on the tour was Brad Thykeson, a Portland, N.D., farmer who was considering installing tile drainage on some of his land.

Since then, I’ve talked with him a number of times on several issues. Last summer, I went to his farm to cover an event that helped out-of-state supermarket chain buyers and food bloggers learn more about wheat.

This week, I attended a tile drainage workshop in Grand Forks, N.D.  Speakers included Thykeson, who did indeed install tile drainage. He’s quick to stress that he’s no expert on the subject, but he’s learned a thing or three that can be useful to farmers interested in getting started in tile drainage.

The story on the Grand Forks workshop will be in the March 16 issue of Agweek

A crowded, and important, ag intersection

One of the many interesting things about covering agriculture is surveying the intersection of nutrition, food policy and commodity group influence. View differ, often greatly, on what Americans should eat and what the government should tell them to eat.

Case in point: the recently issued 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommendations. Developed by an advisory panel of experts from universities and nutrition organizations across the nation, the recommendations will help to set nutritional standards for state and federal programs such as school lunches, food stamps, and programs benefiting children and pregnant women.

This will be the first such update of federal food policy in five years, and it’s a big deal.

We’re still in the early stages of a 45-day public comment period — and some commodity groups are doing plenty of commenting about what they see as flaws and shortcomings in the recommendations.

If  you’re planning to submit comments, drop me a line and let me know what’s on your mind.

“How Will We Feed the World?”

Until recently, I hadn’t heard of PLOS ONE, the peer-reviewed, open-access online publication from the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science. But I came across it in researching articles on GM crops and wolf control efforts, and I’ve found it to to be both useful and influential

Its work includes a collection of essays and studies examining the crucial issue of “How Will We Feed the World?”  I’ve glanced over some of the information and found it to be  interesting stuff. One essay, for example, addresses “the common logical fallacy that anything natural is good, and that anything unnatural is bad, and addresses the misconception that GM, as a technique, is specifically and generically different from other crop improvement techniques.”

Maybe you agree with that assessment. Maybe you don’t. Either way, the issue is critically important.

Check out the collection — and the publication itself — at www.plosone,org.