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Published February 24, 2010, 07:20 PM

ND crop production value falls in 2009; still 3rd highest

The total value of the crops produced by North Dakota farmers in 2009 fell off after two record years, but still was the third highest in history by a long shot.

By: Herald Staff and Wire Report,

The total value of the crops produced by North Dakota farmers dropped off last year after two consecutive years at record highs, but still came in at the third-highest level in state history and ahead of the fourth-place year by nearly $2 billion.

Two big reasons for the decline were lower wheat prices because protein levels were lower than normal, despite a big crop; and corn production was down with fewer acres, lower prices and lower yields in a tough growing year for corn.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the value of all crops grown in North Dakota in 2009 at $5.53 billion, a drop of 17 percent from the 2008 total of $6.69 billion. However, both the 2008 total and the 2007 figure of $6.65 billion were records, Darin Jantzi, director of the North Dakota field office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, told The Associated Press in Bismarck.

To illustrate the bonzo years the state's farmers have had the past three years and put last year's fall-off in perspective: in 2006, the value of all crops in the state set a record at the time of $3.66 billion, up from $3.55 billion on 2005, but about $2 billion below last year's levels.

Hard red spring wheat, which is used for products such as bread, was down 20 percent in value to $1.42 billion, but still the third-highest ever. Durum wheat, the main ingredient in pasta, dropped 21 percent to $300 million.

But again, to keep perspective, in the the fourth-highest year for crop values, in 2006, the spring wheat crop wasn’t worth even $1 billion, but came in at $956 million.

Despite lower market prices last year, record yields in spring wheat and durum helped keep the total value at the third-highest level in history.

Neal Fisher, administrator of the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said the drop in value last year was due to market prices being down substantially from record and near-record levels in 2007 and 2008, along with low levels of protein in the grain.

Protein is important to millers and bakers because it affects the quality of their products. It was lower last year because of growing conditions and the fact farmers didn’t apply enough nitrogen at planting because they didn’t expect a big crop after such a late spring planting time, crop experts say.

“All that said, the wheat crop ... is still going to be worth about $2 billion — with a B — which is a good number,” Fisher said.

Value of production for each crop is computed by multiplying the average price over the marketing year by the production. That means years of high prices for one crop — such as 2007, when wheat prices spiraled upward to as high as $20 per bushel because of strong demand and smaller crops around the world — can quickly push up the total value of all crops.

Wheat prices have slid to the $4-$5 range, which Fisher said is still a good price.

“Agriculture is still a very important part of this whole economy,” he said.

A good year for soybeans in North Dakota helped keep the total crop value from falling even more in 2009. Farmers produced their second-biggest crop in history, which the USDA says was worth a record $1.07 billion, up 5 percent from 2008.

Corn for grain in North Dakota showed a 34 percent decrease in value, to $708 million, due in large part to a drop in production of 27 percent from the record 2008 crop. But the value of the corn crop, too, is still third highest as acreage has multiplied in recent years.

Values were down for North Dakota’s sunflower, barley, dry pea, dry bean, potato, winter wheat, canola and flaxseed crops, while lentils and oats saw increases. Commodity prices for most crops fell last year, in large part because of the global recession.