Queens and new friends at the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, SD

I am just home from the Black Hills Stock Show, which runs through Feb. 8 at Rapid City, S.D. — a great get-together for friends. Among the new friends were  Miss Faith (S.D.) Stock Show Rodeo Queen Mikayla Sich. Originally from Duluth, Minn., Sich is an alumni of the University of Minnesota,  Crookston, Minn., but now is an agricultural communications major and animal science and ag business minor at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Also at the BHSS was Miss North Dakota Rodeo Dani Taylor  of Mandan, N.D.,  a senior SDSU mass communications and political science major. The two queens were among 28 queens who answered an annual rodeo queen’s call, through social media. The queens help run the World’s Smallest Rodeo children’s event, where kids dress up like cowboys and run “figure 8s” and other events on stick ponies. No live animals, but lots of live fun.

Curiously, before the BHSS, Sich and Taylor had never met at SDSU. “It’s a big place,” Taylor said, noting the student population is almost13,000. I know, I told her. I am a proud  graduate and grew up in Brookings. I have stories from a new cattlemen’s conference at the BHSS and features from the horse sale coming in the Feb. 9 issue of Agweek magazine. Don’t forget to subscribe.



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Would “Honest John” Burke recognize today’s N.D. Legislature?

As the Republican-led North Dakota Legislature grapples with issues big and small, many of its members walk past the statue of John Burke. “Honest John” came to Dakota Territory in 1888 and is said to have done everything from pitching bundles to teaching school, reading law — even publishing a newspaper. I don’t know how he had the time as he was in both the state House, the Senate, the governorship and on the state supreme court. As a capstone he was a federal treasury secretary in the Woodrow Wilson administration.

An advocate for limiting lobbying, I’m not sure Burke would recognize the political climate today. Certainly he’d see fewer farmers in legislative spots.

While visiting the capitol as a part of a four-state agricultural legislation outlook for Agweek (See the Jan. 19, 2015, cover story, and Agweek TV)  I ran into long-time acquaintance, Rep. Jon Nelson, a farmer from Wolford, N.D., and a member of the House for 20 years. Nelson told me there are only about 16 active farmers in the Legislature anymore. Members of the House and Senate agriculture committees often have some tie to the industry, but few are farmers.

A former Agriculture Committee member and now on the Appropriations Committee, Nelson is hearing the pain in the oil  sector because of plunging prices. But he reminds colleagues  the agriculture industry has gone through the “same thing” in the past several months.

“It’s part of the game, we have to live with it. It doesn’t scare me,” Nelson says. “We realize in the big scheme of things there are valleys and peaks and we should have policies in place to get us through this. I don’t see anybody coming to the aid of agriculture when corn drops to $2 a bushel.” Well, the Legislature makes an effort.

Ethanol advocates in the state are concerned about heading off any surprise effort to scuttle the state’s counter-cyclical subsidization of their industry. An unexpected effort to do that came up in the 2013 Legislature. Nelson was there to notice it and stop it. Why keep a safety net for ethanol? Nelson says that’s simple: “If wasn’t for ethanol, what would prevent corn from going to 50 cents a bushel?”

A bit of exaggeration, yes, but Nelson — the farmer-legislator — has a point.

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Mexican deal on sugar with U.S. is complete, details later from DOC


Red River Valley sugar beet growers appear to have gotten what they are looking for in a deal over Mexican sugar imports. Here is today’s press release from the American Sugar Alliance:

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) today announced that the U.S. and Mexican governments have reached an agreement to suspend the ongoing antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of sugar from Mexico. Phillip Hayes, a spokesman for the American Sugar Alliance, released the following statement about the settlement.


“The final suspension agreements should achieve U.S. sugar producers’ main goal by stopping Mexico from dumping subsidized sugar onto the U.S. market and violating U.S. trade law. It is a good deal for U.S. producers, U.S. taxpayers, and U.S. consumers, and we would like to thank officials at the DOC and USDA for their hard work in negotiating the agreements.


“Like our counterparts in Mexico, we want NAFTA to operate as intended and to foster free and fair trade in sugar between the countries. This settlement helps achieve that objective.”


The DOC will provide details of the agreements, which do not reopen or undermine NAFTA and will not require any changes to U.S. sugar policy in the recently passed Farm Bill, Hayes says.

Here are the key terms of the agreements, according to the Department of Commerce:

• The CVD agreement contains provisions to prevent an oversupply of sugar in the U.S. market.

Specifically, Commerce will calculate an export limit for Mexico based on information it obtains from

the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) about the U.S. needs for sugar in a given year. The CVD

agreement will also prevent imports from being concentrated during certain times of the year, and will

limit the amount of refined sugar that may enter the U.S. market from Mexico.

• Mexico’s export limit is set at 100 percent of U.S. needs after accounting for U.S. production and

imports from tariff rate quota countries. (U.S. needs are calculated based on USDA data.)

• For purposes of the agreement, “refined sugar” is defined as sugar with a polarity of 99.5 percent or

greater. “Other sugar” is sugar that does not meet the definition of refined sugar. The agreement caps

exports of refined sugar at 53 percent of total exports from Mexico.

• The Government of Mexico will allocate the amount of sugar that each Mexican sugar

producer/exporter can export to the United States. As part of this process, the Government of Mexico

has agreed to establish an export licensing mechanism. Sugar from Mexico will not be able to enter

the United States if it is not accompanied by an export license.

• The signatories of the CVD agreement are Commerce and the Government of Mexico.

AD Agreement

• The AD agreement establishes reference prices, or minimum prices, to guard against undercutting or

suppression of U.S. prices. These minimum prices are $0.26/pound by dry weight commercial value

for refined sugar and $0.2225/pound by dry weight commercial value for all other sugar. “Refined

sugar” is defined as sugar with at least 99.5 percent polarity or above. “Other sugar” is sugar that

does not meet the definition of refined sugar.

U.S. Department of Commerce | International Trade Administration

• The signatories of the AD agreement are Commerce and the Mexican sugar producers and exporters

which account for substantially all of the subject merchandise imported into the United States.

Monitoring and Enforcement

• Commerce and the relevant Mexican government agencies have agreed to establish information

exchanges and consultative processes in relation to the operation and enforcement of the agreements.


• Commerce will instruct U.S. Customs and Border Proctection to terminate the suspension of

liquidation and refund any cash deposits collected as a result of the preliminary AD and CVD

investigation determinations consistent with the relevant provisions of U.S. antidumping and

countervailing duty law.

The Mexican sugar imports in the past few years have led to Mexican imports that depressed the price of U.S. sugar and led to a trade case by the U.S. producers against the Mexicans. The sugar price cuts have cost the region’s growers — who also own the factories as cooperatives — hundreds of millions of dollars.

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USA vs. Johnsons: Spud crop insurance trial starts today in Fargo

The USA vs. Aaron Scott Johnson, Derek Johnson and Johnson Potato Co. starts today, Monday, Dec. 1.  Pre-trial conferences start at 9 a.m., Monday,  and the jury trial starts at 9:30 a.m. in Fargo, and are scheduled in the calendar of U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Erickson through Friday, Dec. 12.

The potato farmers from Northwood, N.D., have pled not guilty to intentionally harming stored potatoes to gain crop insurance. On Nov. 25, Erickson granted several requests from Johnson attorneys to exclude six topics — evidence of a 1995 conviction of conversion of commodity credit corporation property; uncharged alleged criminal acts; the refusal of Aaron Johnson to submit to a polygraph;  and whether Aaron Johnson had reduced harvests during the 2002 to 2006 period.

Erickson said he may exclude testimony of a worker to community farmers  about whether Derek Johnson had “developed the idea of using Rid-X to destroy potatoes.” Erickson said evidence must show that the statements “are not hearsay.”  


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Fact and fiction: Are the North Dakota Grain Growers in a “sinister” effort to promote corn, undermine conservation?


I was fascinated to read Frank Carroll, a Rapid City Journal columnist, who this week took aim at the North Dakota Grain Growers. Carroll talks about a “sinister fight” where “360 million tons of corn contend for center stage.”

“In our rush to make fuel from our food, we inadvertently caused farmers to drain the famous prairie potholes where ducks and other birds have landed for millennia on their way here and there. Farmers are draining the water to make way for corn,” Carroll writes.

Carroll, a Forestry consultant, says the Ducks Unlimited Inc. organization is buying conservation easements on private farmland in South Dakota, and  they can’t get easements, they’re buying the land outright.” DU has $7 million for the purpose in South Dakota this year, Carroll says.

In his column, Carroll reports that “organizations like the North Dakota Grain Growers Association are working hard down low, behind the scenes to make conservation easements illegal,” and are attacking the Natural Resources Conservation Service, criticizing the agency for using “DU funding to pay for three NRCS positions.” Attacks on the NRCS are “way out of line” and “willing sellers and buyers should be able to establish conservation easements without interference.” And Carroll adds: “If there’s anything wrong here, it’s the corn lobby going after property rights in state legislatures and in the press.”

I don’t know what else in the Carroll column might be wrong, but I checked with the Grain Growers and Brad Thykeson, a recent past president and farmer from Portland, N.D., and he confirmed my recollection that  the group  has never pushed for the elimination of conservation easements.

Perhaps Carroll refers to the Grain Growers being against DU employees working in NRCS offices. The Grain Growers say DU workers are a political action group and don’t have any place in a federal office that has sensitive farm information.

The Grain Growers also are against Measure 5, a proposal promoted by DU and others that would constitutionally mandate the “allocation” of an estimated  $150 million a year on not-yet-approved programs. The Grain Growers says that kind of required spending or allocation of money into a trust fund is excessive, compared to the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, a federal program that has spent up to $188 million annually in the state and now spends $70 million. Thykeson say smaller state programs with the same purpose have struggled to spend even a fraction of the amount that would come into this proposed program.

The North Dakota Grain Growers are “not all about corn” — or even anything about corn, as Mr. Carroll might be surprised to learn. The group is about “small grains” — wheat and barley.

I don’t know about DU’s land purchase possibilities in South Dakota, but I know that a North Dakota state law dating to 1932 prevents corporations (even well-meaning non-profit organizations advocating for conservation) from owning and controlling farmland. South Dakota exempts nonprofit corporations from anti-corporate farming restrictions.  North Dakota makes no such exemption.


RRV beet harvest speeds ahead: ‘Just a picnic’ compared to 2013

Rick Nordick waits in his sugar beet lifter for trucks to arrive in a farm’s fourth day of harvest on Oct. 5, 2014, south of Moorhead, Minn.

The region’s sugar beet harvest is nearly a week old, and farmers are experiencing excellent harvest conditions — speeding through the crop in the Red River Valley, with a little more rain in northern areas. Forecasts are for no rain for the next several days.

American Crystal Co.’s  full-scale harvest started Oct. 1. “We haven’t had to pull a truck, haven’t had a truck spin — nothing,” said Rick Nordick of Elisabeth, Minn., working Oct. 5 in a field in the Moorhead factory district. The farm Nordick works for was about half finished lifting beets.

“Usually in these wet mornings, these leaves get kind of greasy, you know,” Nordick said. “Sometime between 5 a.m. to 8 or 9 o’clock the trucks will usually have some trouble,” He said.

Not this year.

 “After fighting the  mud last year, this is just a picnic,” Nordick said.

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Anticipation high for STB hearing in Fargo

FARGO, N.D. — Anticipation is rising for the Surface Transportation Board field hearing, scheduled to run all day in Fargo on Sept. 4. It is unclear whether participants had a very good night of sleep, as tornado warning sirens went off in Fargo at 4:30 a.m.

The STB witness list is long and includes 240 minutes scheduled, plus politicians who are able to hold forth at various times. If speakers run past their 15-minute request times, and if questions from the board are added in, and time for changing witness panels, could allow the schedule to run seven or eight hours, according to sources familiar with the process. In Washington, D.C., some one-day hearings have gone into a second day.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will kick off the testimony. In advance remarks, Hoeven said he would press the Canadian Pacific Railway to add resources and to change its method of reserving cars and tracking orders. “Our businesses are growing, so Canadian Pacific needs to be clear about how many more railcars, locomotives and personnel they plan to devote to our market,” Hoeven said.

On Sept. 3, BNSF Railway filed preliminary testimony in advance of the hearing. Stevan Bobb, executive vice president, said the railroad has moved all-time record volume of grain out of North Dakota in 2014 so far. The railroad says in four of the past five months, ag volume shipped in the four-state region on BNSF has surpassed the previous peak levels.

In North Dakota, traffic in and out of the state has increased 144 percent on BNSF since 2009, the company says. North Dakota represents 20 percent of all new volume in the company’s U.S. rail network.

BNSF has cut its past-due shipments to fewer than 1,000 cars in North Dakota from a high of 8,164 in March. Shuttles trains to the Pacific Northwest are at the 2.5 round trips per month for the past four weeks. BNSF will say it si ready for the harvest and will have resources to move record bushels.

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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.


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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.

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