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Published September 10, 2012, 11:19 AM

Durum: 2 hits, 1 miss

Area durum producers appear to have gone two for three this growing season. Yields, on balance, are OK. Quality generally is good. But prices are disappointing.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Area durum producers appear to have gone two for three this growing season. Yields, on balance, are OK. Quality generally is good. But prices are disappointing.

“I think it’s a pretty good crop,” says Ryan Davidson, a Tioga, N.D., farmer. “Yields are a mixed bag, but across the board, we’ll come up with a pretty nice average. And I’d say overall it’s been our best quality year since 2007.”

Weak prices are the big drawback, he and others say.

The area’s durum harvest will be nearly finished by early September, weather permitting.

Though the summer was hot and generally dry, some durum fields received timely rains. Good subsoil moisture — a result of heavy rains that hurt durum last year — also benefitted the crop this year, growers say. Area farmers report yields of 25 to 60 bushels per acre.

North Dakota typically accounts for more than half of the nation’s production of durum, which is used to make pasta. The crop is most popular in northewest North Dakota.

The state averaged 25.5 bushels of durum per acre in 2011, when excess moisture hurt the crop, and 37.5 bushels per acre in 2010. This year’s average yield is expected to be roughly the same as last year, possibly a little higher.

Montana ranks second in production, concentrated in the northeast part of the state. The state averaged 28 bushels of durum per acre in 2011 and 34 in 2010.

Gordon Stoner, a durum farmer in Outlook, Mont., finished harvesting his durum on Aug. 29. He thinks durum in his area will yield about 30 bushels per acre, which he describes as average or slightly above.

Though durum quality generally is good, some areas were hit with scab, a crop disease that can hurt both yields and quality, growers say.

“There’s more than we expected,” says Bruce Verlinde, a Noonan, N.D., farmer.

Price considerations

Durum carries the risk of big discounts, or price reductions as a result of poor quality. That makes the crop riskier to grow than spring wheat, so farmers typically want a higher price for durum to raise it.

But durum currently is fetching about 60 cents less per bushel than spring wheat at area grain elevators surveyed weekly by Agweek.

Farmers will be reluctant to plant durum next spring unless the crop’s price fetches a premium to spring wheat, says Larry Neubauer, a Bottineau, N.D., farmer.

Area durum growers went into the growing season saying that durum prices were too low in comparison with other competing crops. Those complaints continue this fall.

Keith Deutsch, a Plaza, N.D., farmer and president of the U.S. Durum Growers Association, notes that durum acreage has been declining for years.

He doubts the decline will end unless farmers receive what think they is an adequate price for durum.

Davidson says he thinks farmers will continue to grow durum in agronomically well-suited areas, even if durum prices continue to lag.

But farmers elsewhere likely will turn away from the crop if durum prices don’t improve, he says.

Many factors, including the level of this year’s U.S. corn and soybean prices, will influence the price of durum and competing crops at planting time next spring.

“It will be interesting to see what happens over the next six to eight months,” Davidson says.

Stoner says durum fits well into his crop rotation and that he expects to continue raising it. He typically stores his durum when prices are low and sells it later at a higher price.

“Through the years, it (durum) has been pretty good to me,” Stoner says.