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 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:


‘Farmland’ film coming to Fargo on May 1: this could be good

I stopped in at Wholesale Ag Products near Carrington, N.D., the other day. Bruce Bachmeier, general manager, told me about a new movie coming to Fargo on May 1.

He says his daughter is a state FFA officer and said one of the other state officers saw this movie while in Washington, D.C. They thought it was excellent.

It’s apparently scheduled at the Century 10 theater in Fargo, as well as a few theaters in the Twin Cities. It offers a bit of reality for people who have a difficult time grasping today’s agriculture.

According to one promotion: The farm-focused, feature length documentary Farmland will be released across 60 major national markets in the U.S. on May 1st. Allentown Productions says Farmland offers viewers an intimate and firsthand glimpse into the lives of six young farmers and ranchers across the country – chronicling their high-risk, high-reward jobs and their passion for a way of life that has been passed down from generation to generation. Award-winning filmmaker James Moll says audiences will hear thoughts and opinions about agriculture from the mouths of farmers and ranchers themselves. For more information about the film – visit Farmland Film dot com (

Sunday showdown at the GOP corral for Goehring, Estenson

It’s coming down to the short strokes for the Republican nomination battle between incumbent North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and challenger Judy Estenson.

Goehring called me this morning to complain about my Feb. 17 column (“Who Wins?” Goehring, ND Farm Bureau Split”) in which I said he displayed “sexual insensitivity” to have female staffer walk on his back to solve a headache/back problem at a convention. The “treatment” was in a motel room, albeit in the presence of another male staffer.

The commissioner started by telling me it was “out of context, used inappropriately” to describe this as sexual. He said it was inappropriate for me to use the word “sexual” because it would imply “sexual harassment,” a word that I did not use.  I told him Commissioner Goehring I don’t think the two things are the same. I also told him I personally thought the move was a stupid move for a public servant and told him I think he will pay a political price for it.

He will.

He has already.

I don’t think this is the main issue for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, which is backing Estenson, but it is an issue that will play well for any opponent – either in a Republican primary, or in a general election. It will be something that will be easy to allude to without coming out and saying it.

The North Dakota Republican party reportedly had 750 delegates registered last week, but on Monday – the last day to register – there were 1,000, according my Republican source. Besides raising havoc with the Republicans’ multi-page convention booklet, it could also mean a fight for motel rooms in Minot, where the convention is scheduled this weekend. The ag commissioner race is not decided until Sunday.

The delegate source  – a strong Goehring supporter, and one who remembers the Kent Jones/Keith Bjerke split in 1996 that led to a Sarah Vogel’s victory – thinks Farm Bureau has been “sandbagging,” or hiding their delegate support.

He notes that to be a member of the Republican party, you must only pay the $36.50 annual dues. Then you have to be selected as a delegate by the district. The state tells the district the number of delegates they can have in January, based on prior contributions. This time, some districts didn’t register any delegates until near the deadline of March 31.

This delegate source thinks the extra delegates are people influenced by former North Dakota Farm Bureau President Eric Aasmundstad of Devils Lake. He remembers how this procedure was done prior to the 2000 nomination of John Hoeven, who beat state Sen. Gary Nelson. That year there was a record number of delegates at about 2,000. The state party made a conscious decision in December 1999 to have a bigger convention than normal.

“In the end, it’s going to be close – within 5 to 6 percent,” the delegate says. “This ag commissioner rate is attracting another 200 to 300 delegates than normally would come to a dull convention.”

Goehring, for his part says he’s going to try to stay on message.

He won’t say he’ll go to the primary election, but I think he would if Estenson beat him. “Conventions can be stacked” and can be a “small representation of the party, whether Democrat or Republican Goerhing says. He looks to the precedent of Kevin Cramer, who beat nominee Brian Kalk for the Republican candidate for the congressional race. He also mentions Nick Spaeth, the North Dakota attorney general who went to the primary to beat Bill Heigaard for the party’s gubernatorial nod.

I think we’ll see Mr. Goehring in the primary, either way. “I would never run (in the general election in November) as an independent,” he says, repeating what he’s said before.

As I said in my column conclusion, the contest will mean either Goehring or Estenson will face a charismatic candidate. Ryan Taylor, who ran a clean candidacy as the Democrat nominee in the 2012 gubernatorial race, might qualify for that description.

A tale of cattle and buffalo — with a whisker of cat and dog

This handsome chap is A.H. Leonard, a son-in-law of the famed James “Scotty” Philip of Fort Pierre, S.D., and my dad’s hometown of Philip, S.D. Philip was known as a cattle and buffalo ranching king. Leonard continued on as sales manager for the company after Scotty’s untimely death in 1911.

The photo is from a brochure from a tannery that operated in the mid-1920s in the Detroit Lakes, Minn., area, and had a connection with the Philip buffalo ranch. The March 31 issue of Agweek carries my column on this topic.

One of the things that surprised me about the tannery is that they had a price list that included work with “cat skins (domestic)” and dogs. Times have changed.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. announces13th race on Fargo radio show

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., announced he will seek a 13th term. Peterson made the announcement on Joel Heitkamp’s “News and Views” talk show on KFGO radio in Fargo, prior to his official announcement expected at 10 a.m. at Moorhead City Hall. Peterson is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Peterson, 69, represents the sprawling 7th District from northwest Minnesota to Marshall, Minn. State. Sen. Tory Westrom, Elbow Lake, is the only Republican announced for the position.

The congressman says he expects that national groups will try to target him – “these national groups, trying to take these seats for themselves, away from the people.” He says it was nearly a “miracle” to get the farm bill passed, and that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently told Peterson he hoped it would be fully implemented in 2014.

Among other things, he says the Renewable Fuel Standard needs to be maintained for corn ethanol. He says the problem with the RFS is that advanced biofuel targets were too high for the practicalities. He says corn ethanol should be protected because the industry has plants that are doing “exactly what we want them to do.”