BNSF’S John Miller says 2014 harvest should go smoother

 

I interviewed John Miller (left) BNSF Railway’s group vice president for agriculture, and Amy McBeth, a BNSF communications official for the company, in Mandan, N.D., after their meeting with theNorth Dakota Ag Rail Business Council. Miller was optimistic about turning in a better performance with this year’s crop but agriculture officials are worried about getting a fair share of the improved performance because of expected expansions in oil transportation. For details about the meeting, go to agweek.com or see the Aug. 4 issue of Agweek.

 

Dakota wheat crops head toward maturity

Agweek country farmers are heading toward harvest time on some of their crops. Here are NASS crop progress and condition highlights from the July 28 report.

Minnesota crop development is behind-normal. The southwest part of the state needs rain while farmers in northern  towns like Crookston and Hallock area, received more than an inch of rain early in the week. Topsoil moisture is 86 percent adequate to surplus and subsoil moisture is 93 percent adequate to surplus in the state. Crop percentages in the good to excellent categories included: barley, 49 percent; corn, 68 percent; oats, 67 percent; pasture, 73 percent; soybeans, 64 percent; spring wheat, 53 percent; hay, 66 percent; potatoes, 84 percent; sugar beets 29 percent; dry edible beans, 51 percent; sunflower, 38 percent. Spring wheat is 36 percent coloring, compared to a five-year average of 59 percent. Corn is 61 percent silking compared to a 71 percent average. Soybeans are right at average with 74 percent blooming and 26 percent setting pods.

 

Montana conditions were mostly unchanged. Pasture and range conditions are right at five-year averages, with 52 percent good to excellent. Subsoil moisture is 58 percent adequate to surplus. Barley, canola, spring wheat and winter wheat are all ahead of five-year averages for ripening, while flaxseed, oats and durum are somewhat behind schedule. Crop percentages in the good to excellent categories remained strong: barley, 55 percent; dry peas, 68 percent; oats, 60 percent; durum wheat, 62 percent; spring wheat, 59 percent; winter wheat, 66 percent. About 94 percent of the winter wheat was turning ripe, while 52 percent of the barley is ripening.

North Dakota corn silking is 34 percent complete, up 24 percentage points from last week and compared to a five-year average of 52 percent for the date. Corn conditions are 78 percent good to excellent, with 34 percent silking, compared to 52 percent average. About 72 percent of the soybeans in the state are blooming, compared to a 77 percent average, and 76 percent were in good to excellent condition. Barley was 81 percent rated good to excellent. Pasture and range are 86 percent good to excellent in the state.

South Dakota’s winter wheat was 18 percent harvested, compared to a five-year average of 55 percent for the date. Corn conditions were 74 percent good to excellent, with 70 percent silking, compared to 50 percent for the date. Soybeans in the state were 71 percent blooming, compared to 76 percent average, with crop condition rated 68 percent good to excellent.

What’s hay bringing in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana?

 

A A farmer east of Broadus, Mont., was getting the hay crop of his life, between cloudbursts in late June.

 

If you check out the July 21 issue of Agweek and the CropStop from southeast Montana, you’ll see some smiling hay and beef producers. One of these folks asked me how much hay was bringing these days.

So  I checked with Guy Garrison, who raises and markets hay from his St. John, N.D., farm north of Rolla and near the Canadian border. Garrison said that folks who run the Sauk Centre, Minn., auction, held every first and third Thursday at a truck stop there, have told him good quality dairy hay is bringing a good $250 to $280 per ton range. But it has to have relatively high food value.

Garrison says some long-standing customers 600 miles away (I won’t say where) pay him $200 a ton for good grass hay, although the stuff has brought $120 to $130 per ton in some of the auctions. Garrison says he recently talked to a dairyman in Minnesota who wanted to pay $110 per ton for good grass hay, but Garrison said he couldn’t deliver it for less than $120.

The availability of good hay depends locally on how much rain people have had, and when. Garrison was baling some nice timothy-brome hay, but it had been on the ground about 12 days. He said he’s hauled some alfalfa to a pelleting plant near Willmar, Minn., where the plant officials told him much of the local alfalfa first cutting was “trash” due to untimely rains.

Andy Swenson, a North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist, says hay prices have been pretty volatile in the past few years. With all of the rain through much of the region, prices should be fairly “normal,” he says.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service breaks down hay prices by alfalfa and non-alfalfa, reports, but much of the country looks at high-quality dairy hay and some of the North Dakota’s alfalfa isn’t managed as intensely, he says. Plus, there are transportation costs that cut the farm gate price for farmers selling to dairies. Swenson says North Dakota is known of having some of the “cheapest hay in the country.”

Oh, on a side note: Swenson says he was at a national farm management education meeting earlier this summer. The group toured a farm north of Salt Lake City, Utah. The Utah farm received a lot of alfalfa grown in Montana and Wyoming and compressed and shipped it to Asia. In China, their customers are large dairies with up to 50,000 cows. At the other extreme, in  Japan, big bales are sometimes cut into smaller, 50- and 70—pound bales that are carried by bicycles to feed their “herd” of three to five cows.

That’s a farm size range of 10,000 to one, isn’t it? There’s a difference in farms and I’m not sure what “average” means anymore.

 

 

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The pros and cons of an eye-popping clover crop

Anyone who has driven through western South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana this summer can’t help but be impressed by the abundance of sweetclover. It’s been several years since the clover year has “popped” like this – the result of a wet fall and wet spring.

In the July 14, 2014, issue of Agweek, check out the CropStop that includes a visit with Jeff Gabriel of Quinn, S.D. He says the pastures look nice, but the sweetclover has its pros and cons. “It has some feed value to it, but when it gets so thick and tall if you don’t get it grazed down, it kills your grass underneath,” Gabriel says. “And when it dries out it’s a terrible fire hazard.” When it gets another week or so on it, the cattle will start to back away from it because it becomes less palatable.

Gabriel says that he and his father, Larry, a former South Dakota agriculture secretary, are about done with their hay crop and will go into pastures to cut down some of the clover to prevent potential fire problems later. “That stuff’s bound to dry out, sooner or later,” he says.

The Gabriels kept some yearlings this year primarily to chew down some of the sweetclover, that they saw coming last fall.  They kept half of their steer calves when it would have been tempting to sell them, although cattle prices have continued to be strong. He says another negative to the standing, cured clover is that holds snow and make pastures difficult for cattle to walk through, even though the resulting moisture is a good thing in this part of the world.

Check out Agweek for more details, or go to Agweek.com

Native Gann Valley, S.D., spray pilot moved west with crop shifts

 

Joy and Randy Yost have operated Randy’s Spray Service out of Hayes, S.D., for the past 11 years. More cropping and more rain in the area, and a shift toward sunflowers have moved their business west.

A bit of trivia: Gann Valley, with a population of 14, is the county seat of Buffalo County – reportedly the smallest population county seat in America. (I don’t know who looked into this, but Gann Valley also had the distinction in 2000 of being the “statistical center of population for South Dakota,” with Latitude 44 degrees, 2 minutes, 51 seconds North and Longitude 99 degrees, 2 minutes, 37.6 seconds West.) Anyway, recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Yost, a Gann Valley native, and his wife, Joy Yost, where they now live at beautiful, bustling Hayes, S.D. They and their family run Randy’s Spray Service and say their clients are looking at a good-sized crop. I included the Yosts in a CropStop that was filed for the July 14 issue of Agweek. Look it up at Agweek.com. Don’t subscribe? Call the home office in Grand Forks, N.D., to get your own subscription – 800-477-6572!

USDA’s Scuse a popular fellow at SD Governor’s Ag Summit

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Michael Scuse talked about farm bill implementation, livestock relief and trade at the fifth annual South Dakota Governor’s Summit on Agriculture. The event was held June 27 in Deadwood, S.D.

 

U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Michael Scuse seemed to be one of the most popular people in attendance at the fifth annual South Dakota Governor’s Summit on Agriculture. The event was held June 27 in Deadwood, S.D.

 

Scuse, a former state ag secretary from Deleware, now oversees most USDA programs relating to production agriculture and trade. The 2014 farm bill was signed into law on Feb. 7 and Scuse was key in directing efforts into livestock provisions. He noted that April 15, in 10 weeks usda has paid out $884 million in disaster assistance under those programs.

Scuse drew spontaneous applause and warm personal greetings for the federal response to the 2012 drought and the Atlas blizzard on Oct. 4, 2013, that killed tens of thousands of livestock across the state. Scuse noted that in South Dakota, USDA had made 6,100 payments for a sum of $96 million. Some $78 million was in the Livestock Forage Program relating to 2012 drought disaster.

The USDA cut in half the time it takes to make disaster declarations. USDA reduced emergency loan rates to just over 2 percent interest — previously locked in at 3.75 percent. They persuaded all 16 crop insurance companies to waive interest penalties on delayed crop insurance premium payments. USDA opened almost all Conservation Reserve Program lands to emergency haying and grazing.

Last year the U.S. experienced record-breaking exports of agricultural products of $141 billion, Scuse says. That gave the U.S. a run of the five biggest years in agricultural trade in the nation’s history. Last month USDA released projections that U.S. ag exports will “shatter” the record by going to be on pace for $149 billion in trade – giving a $30 billion trade surplus. He said beef, pork, poultry and dairy exports are at or near record levels.

For more coverage on the conference, look to the July 7, 2014, issue of Agweek.

Fick was a ‘godfather’ of the sunflower industry as we know it

It was enjoyable to attend the National Sunflower Association’s 2014 summer seminar in Deadwood, S.D., on June 25.

I was particularly pleased to be present when Gary Fick, one of the region’s preeminent sunflower breeders, was given the NSA’s “Gold Award” for service to the industry.

 

Bob Majkrzak, who recently marked 25 years as president and chief executive officer for Red River Commodities Inc., based in Fargo, and Fick’s long-time cohort Jay Schuler of Breckenridge, Minn., were two of the people who feted Fick.

Both told tales of his sometimes earthy, ironic sense of humor and his success. Schuler called Fick a “godfather” of the sunflower business as it is now known. Certainly that’s true for the  confection side of the business. Fick “retired” a couple of years ago, but keeps a couple of genetics projects going in the blue corn and organic businesses with Schuler.

 

For coverage of the sunflower event, turn to your Agweek magazine in the June 30  issue.

Breakfast on the Farm not just for the urbanites, is it?

Local farmers and the Hawley, Minn., Lions Club served up flapjacks and goodwill to farmers for some 4,500 people on May 31. The event was started because of June Dairy Month, 14 years ago.

There’s nothing like getting out on a farm. I attended the recent Breakfast on a Farm effort that was held at Hawley, Minn. The event was started several years ago because of June Dairy Month, but has expanded to be a Lions Club event – and one of the largest of its types in the state of Minnesota, bringing in some 4,500 eaters. Look for details on this in the June 9 issue of Agweek, including a list of some similar upcoming events in Minnesota that will feature Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

Funny thing, I stopped at a nearby farm to ask questions about a lake I was looking for, afterward, and the farmer said he knew about the event but passed it up. “I have breakfast on the farm every day,” he said.

True enough, but I wonder if farmers have fully used this kind of event to rub shoulders with townspeople and get a chance to let people know what they do, and how they do it. I wonder if it’s a missed opportunity for good will.

 

Farmland movie puts positive face on farms

 

Members of the Sigma Alpha professional agricultural sorority from North Dakota State University pose in front of the Farmland movie poster after viewing a premier showing on April 30, 2014, at Marcus West Acre Theater in Fargo, N.D.

FARGO, N.D. — If you have any connection to agriculture (you do, if you eat) the movie “Farmland” would be worth ten bucks, less than the price of a decent restaurant meal. If you have the evening available on Thursday, May 1, consider going to the Marcus West Acres Theater in Fargo, N.D., for the 7 p.m. one-and-only showing.

I’m not just saying that because I’m an agricultural reporter.

Really, it’s a good show. Take your kids, your mother, your friends, or get your eyeballs on it some way.

The 77-minute movie, paid for by the U.S. Farm and Ranch Alliance, a group of commodity organizations and agribusinesses. It is a documentary in an old media form – a movie — accomplished for the sponsors who are then promoting and maximizing its message through new media, including blogs, websites and text messages.

In a premier showing to a collection of invited ag-friendly guests on April 30 in Fargo, Farmland drew applause at the end and generally enthusiastic reviews. The North Dakota Soybean Council, one of the sponsoring groups hosted about 200 people, including a mix of some farmers, but also college students and long-time agriculture advocates. There have been private showings starting with the Commodity Classic ag show in San Antonio, Texas, in late February. (Carrington, farmer Ellen Linderman said she saw Farmland it in Texas and had to sign a form indicating she wouldn’t say anything about it to anyone. She didn’t, said husband Charles, who is a member of the soybean council.)

*Ag is still strong

Farmland doesn’t have a plot, but it has a story, and celebrates that agriculture has a strong heart.

Not surprisingly, farmers in this movie are good guys — trustworthy, hard-working, smart, and loyal to families and their customers. They like technology and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty or their hair filled with straw.

Anyone who personally knows stories of farm families will find familiar themes in the intertwined stories of six 20-somethings, selected from across the country – a Georgia chicken farmer, a Texas cattle rancher, a California commercial organic produce farmer, a Pennsylvania truck gardener. People from the Upper Great Plains will feel a special familiarity or kinship to stories of a Nebraska corn and cattle farmer, or a Minnesota hog, corn and soybean farmer.

Farmland  touches on a number of “big topics” in agriculture today, said one person the show – genetically modified organisms, animal welfare, water usage, and risk. The debate over the goodness of organic versus conventional farming or big versus small is debated between polite people who aren’t all that big, and don’t want to offend each other. They don’t.   

Most premier-goers mentioned that the movie correctly focused on the heart of farming and how the business has a different style of humanity than many other kinds of careers.

*Timeless themes

Documentary-maker James Moll dwelt heavily upon the ageless, intergenerational themes that are common in farming. The memorable moments for most people will include David Loberg of Carroll, Neb., who took over when his father died of cancer, or Leighton Cooley who has taken over a poultry enterprise. There is the inexorable influence of weather, and a familiar connection between farmers and religion that seems logical considering nature is out of human control.

In an era where many young farmers seem to feel ignored by urban consumers or even attacked by professional critics, this Farmland movie will offer an unusual rallying point, and perhaps a feeling of pride.

In Moll’s story, the cattle are beautiful creatures, the close-ups of pigs and baby chicks are of the young and cute, even when surrounded by automatic waterers and feeders. Farmers are unafraid to show school children their barns and answer questions.The movie contrasts this to sinister footage of undercover videos and has the farmers denouncing such acts.

In an era of Facebook and Twitter, when people can broadcast their personal stories, and entertainment goes viral, it is still impressive and compelling to see ordinary farmers being themselves  on the silver screen. Each of the subject farms gets its own high angle treatment, with the panoramas over the farm buildings. Farmers, through their check-off dollars, have made something they can share with city cousins.

*Comedy? Drama?

Farmland isn’t a funny movie, but it includes the gentle humor of jibes between brothers and fathers and sons who work with each other from childhood to the end and see life as a continuum. The farmers in the crowd laugh at the familiar home movies of little boys getting toy tractors at Christmas, or Ryan Veldhuizen of Edgerton, Minn., talking about how he learned to start recognizing health problems in pigs at age 4½.

Farmland isn’t a tragedy, but there are plenty of poignant family moments —  the birth of twin babies, the drama at whether the corn crop will emerge. One 50-something farmer in the audience choked up when he said he could relate to the Nebraska family who – several years after their father’s death – still had a cell number labeled “Dad” in their contacts.

Surely there are some things missing in Farmland. One movie-goer wondered whether there might have been more emphasis on the use of computers and marketing of crops. I wondered whether the stories might have included someone overcoming a crop failure, or a market problem.

To learn more about what I and others thought about  Farmland, watch for updates in this space and in the May 5 issue of Agweek magazine.

 

Buzz: ‘Farmland’ movie debuts in Fargo on on May 1 at the West Acres cinema.

The “Farmland” movie documentary will open to the public May 1 at the West Acres Theater in Fargo. (not Century 10, as someone earlier had told me). So, go for it, and let me know whether you think an effort like this affects the conversation about farming in America, as it’s intended to do. In the April 21 issue of Agweek, I feature Ryan Veldhuizen of Edgerton, Minn., who is one of six producers nationwide to be featured in the project, which is financed in part by checkoff dollars, through commodity groups, and collected as the U.S. Farmer and Rancher Alliance.

Also – here is a link to the trailers: http://www.farmlandfilm.com/#trailer