Jonathan Knutson / Agweek Staff Writer
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Justin Mead has spent all of August and much of September in Grand Forks County, the longest he's ever been away from his western North Dakota ranch. But now he's heading home, well satisfied with his long sojourn. "For me, being a 33-year-old guy, it's something I really enjoyed and benefitted from," said the Grassy Butte, N.D. rancher. He talked with Agweek on Sept. 19, a few days before he was expecting to make the 370-mile trip home.
U.S. agriculture is a long-time leader in innovation and global competitiveness. But more collaboration and renewed focus on public-sector research are needed for that to continue. That's a key conclusion from the Farm Foundation Forum on "Agricultural Innovations: Changes Needed for Global Competitiveness" held Sept. 17 in Washington, D.C. Organized by the Farm Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides nonpartisan policy and forums related to agriculture, the event was open to journalists and others online.
It may be one the most colorful images in U.S. agriculture: A tense group of farmers, bunched in a room, bidding energetically against their neighbors to buy land. But that scene has become less common in parts of Agweek Country, particularly northeast North Dakota. The Grand Forks, N.D., office of Farmers National Company hasn't held a public auction since late 2014, says Jayson Menke, who works in real estate sales in the office.
Farmland values in Iowa — sometimes a harbinger of farmland values elsewhere — are on the upswing, according to a widely watched survey. The Iowa Chapter of the Realtors Land Institute's September 2017 Land Trends and Values Survey shows a 2 percent statewide average increase of cropland values from March to September. The increase, combined with a 0.9 percent increase in the previous six-month survey, gives a 2.9 percent annual increase in land values; that's the first full-year increase in Iowa land values since 2013.
Small grains once dominated most of Upper Midwest crop production. Though other crops, including sugar beets, potatoes and sunflowers, were grown, the region's harvest was largely wrapped up by late September, when small grains usually were off. No more. Corn and soybeans have expanded north into southern Canada and west into Montana, and many Agweek Country farmers have weeks of harvest still ahead.
Farmers and ranchers often complain they're under attack by society, or at least some powerful elements in it. The attacks often center around claims that farmers care too much about profits, too little about the environment and protecting the long-term health of their communities and fields. Some farmers, when they hear such claims, glare indignantly and say, "Of course we care. Nobody cares more."
CARRINGTON, N.D. — North Dakota's soil, crops and climate vary greatly from south to north and east to west. But Carrington, roughly in the middle of the state, is somewhat representative of North Dakota overall — and much of the rest of Agweek Country, too. Because of its central location, North Dakota State University's Carrington Research Extension Center is engaged in a number of projects holding widespread interest and appeal. Agweek visited the Carrington center on a rainy summer day to learn more about four of them.
WEST FARGO, N.D. — There's still demand for area farmland, and the market isn't surfeited with supply. As a result, farmland rental rates and land values have held up better than some people expected, given generally weak commodity prices, Brent Qualey says. Though there are variations reflecting geography and land quality, "I think the level of stabilization came in at a higher level than many had anticipated," said Qualey, a veteran area real estate salesman and appraiser.
Goodbye, wheat. Hello, corn, soybeans and sugar beets. The Upper Midwest small grains harvest is on the stretch run, with row crop harvest just getting underway, according to the new weekly crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report, released the afternoon of Sept. 11, reflected conditions as of Sept. 10. Spring wheat harvest was nearly wrapped up across the region — in line with, or ahead of, its five-year average.
FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — Charlie Piekarski bubbled with enthusiasm as he looked at the 250-plus people from five states and Canada standing on his wheat stubble. "All these people — here because they want to learn more about strip till. It's exciting," said the 70-year-old Fergus Falls, Minn., farmer. Then he bent down and picked up a handful of soil in which an earthworm wriggled. "This is exciting, too. Just look at how healthy this soil is. That's why we're doing this; it's all about the soil," he said.