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Published January 25, 2012, 07:38 PM

Minot area’s 2012 crop outlook mostly hopeful

MINOT, N.D. – In his 40 years of farming, Jim McCullough has seen a lot. Last year, the Regan, N.D,, producer battled a wet spring, hail and crop disease that fungicide applications couldn’t prevent. “It wasn’t an easy year,” he said. Now, with spring planting inching closer, McCullough said he’s “kind of optimistic” about the 2012 crop. “Inputs are getting up there a little bit, but I think we can have a good year.”

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. – In his 40 years of farming, Jim McCullough has seen a lot.

Last year, the Regan, N.D., producer battled a wet spring, hail and crop disease that fungicide applications couldn’t prevent. “It wasn’t an easy year,” he said.

Now, with spring planting inching closer, McCullough said he’s “kind of optimistic” about the 2012 crop. “Inputs are getting up there a little bit, but I think we can have a good year.”

McCullough, who shared his thoughts Wednesday at the annual KMOT Ag Expo in Minot, N.D., isn’t alone, at least judging by comments from other farmers and agribusiness people at the show. With spring planting less than three months away, weather permitting, area agriculturalists have a good deal of optimism – as well as a few concerns – about their upcoming crop.

The main reasons for optimism: generally good crop prices and the warm, dry fall that allowed producers to prepare their fields for planting this spring.

The main concern: the relatively high cost of inputs such as fuel, seed and fertilizer.

The KMOT Ag Expo, billed as “the largest indoor agricultural show in the Northern Plains,” is being held Jan. 25-27. The show drew 360 exhibitors and was expected to attract 35,000 people over the three days. Unseasonably warm weather on Wednesday brought freezing rains and icy roads that initially held down attendance. But sunshine and above-freezing temperatures that afternoon improved travel conditions and allowed attendance to pick up.

“The halls are really filling up. We’re going to have another good day,” said Gregg Schaefer, the farm show’s executive director.

Minot is in northwestern North Dakota, which was hit hard by extremely wet weather in the spring of 2011. Many fields in the area couldn’t be planted. Even so, farmers in northwestern North Dakota generally are optimistic about 2012, Schaefer said.

“The people I talk with are positive,” he said.

His prediction for the 2012 crop: northwestern North Dakota farmers will plant more corn and soybeans than they have in the past. The area around Minot is known for wheat production, but corn and soybean prices are attractive, Schaefer said.

Adam Balk, warehouse manager with Poynter’s Ag Supply in Sawyer, N.D., also said farmers in the northwestern part of the state probably will plant more corn and soybeans this spring.

Farmers in his area generally are optimistic, despite the planting problems last spring, he said.

There are widespread reports that seed for some crops is in short supply. Balk said customers of Poynter’s Ag Supply, which handles seed, chemical, fertilizer and equipment, aren’t expected to have big problems getting seed for this year’s crop.

In some cases, farmers may need to plant a seed variety that matures in less time than they would prefer, he said.

Typically, varieties that mature faster have less yield potential, which can limit their appeal.

McCullough said he’s not worried about getting the inputs he needs for his crop. But the inputs’ high cost will make achieving a profit on the 2012 crop more difficult, especially if grain prices fall sharply or yields are mediocre.

“We can’t control (grain) prices. We can’t control the weather,” he says.

Lowell Kaul said he has one word of advice for farmers concerned about input costs: organic.

Organically grown crops typically require far fewer purchased inputs than conventionally grown crops, said Kaul, a Harvey, N.D., farmer who has been certified organic since 1994.

Kaul attended the KMOT Ag Expo as a representative of the North Dakota Organic Advisory Board, which describes itself as a “partnership of North Dakotans with an interest in organic food.”

Kaul, who sat in the Advisory Board’s booth at the Ag Expo, said a number of farmers using conventional farming practices came to the booth and asked him why they should be interested in organic ag. “I told them, ‘Well, let’s start with your inputs.’”

Organic ag advocates stress the use of tools such as cover crops, crop rotation and biological control instead of chemicals to manage weeds, insects and crop disease.

North Dakota had 215,568 certified organic acres in 2008, which was up from the 90,790 acres of certified organic in 2007, according to the Advisory Board.

One of the biggest questions facing area farmers this winter is how much moisture their fields will have at planting. In the spring of 2011, most area fields had too much moisture. Now, after a dry fall and a paucity of snow so far this winter, many fields have less moisture than farmers would like.

The moisture situation is a concern, but it should be kept in perspective, said Denis Touzin, a grain purchaser with Keystone Grain Ltd. in Winkler, Manitoba. His company contracts, processes and exports a number of specialty crops, and works with farmers in both Canada and the northern United States.

Like their counterparts on the Northern Plains, Canadian farmers in the Prairie Provinces experienced a wet spring and dry fall in 2011.

Though fields may be a little dry now, that would change in a hurry with a few heavy snows or spring rains, he said.

“The crop isn’t made in January,” Touzin said.

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