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Published December 31, 2012, 09:06 AM

2012: Drought makes its ugly return

Going into 2012, many area farmers were weary of the region’s long wet cycle. But by the summer of 2012, lack of moisture was the problem.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Going into 2012, many area farmers were weary of the region’s long wet cycle. But by the summer of 2012, lack of moisture was the problem. Drought hit parts of the Upper Midwest hard, while other areas were relatively unscathed and enjoyed good yields. Following is a look back at some of the notable issues and events in the past year.

January

• Most of the region begins the year abnormally dry after little precipitation falls in the final months of 2011. January is unusually warm and dry, too.

• Livestock prices are extremely strong, and many producers enjoy some of their best profits ever.

February

• Anderson Seed Inc., of Mentor, Minn., goes insolvent, leaving farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota holding the bag for about $5 million. Legumex Walker Inc., based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, buys Anderson assets and the associated St. Hillaire Seed Co.

• Farm groups and farm-state politicians continue to work on shaping the next five-year farm bill.

March

• Many area farmers begin planting two or three weeks earlier than normal, because the spring is dry and warm.

• Controversy erupts over “pink slime,” a meat product made from fatty bits of meat leftover from other cuts. Federal regulators say the product is safe, but reports in the news media and social media question its safety. Later in the year, Beef Products Inc., the South Dakota-based company at the center of the controversy, sues ABC News.

April

• North Dakota voters begin hearing about two very different ballot initiatives. One would make animal cruelty a felony in the state. The other would protect “modern farming practices” statewide.

• The booming ag economy continues to generate strong demand for college graduates with ag or ag-related degrees.

May

• Corn acreage continues to boom in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, and the crop is increasingly popular in the rest of the region, too.

June

• The insolvent Falkirk (N.D.) Farmers Elevator is liquidated. Some customers lose access to large amounts of fertilizer they’d already purchased. In September, the elevator is bought by SRS Commodities of Mayville, N.D.

• High temperatures and lack of rain stresses crops and intensifies concern about drought. The Corn Belt is hit particularly hard. Corn and soybean prices soar.

July

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture approves Roundup Ready, or genetically modified, sugar beets. Environmentalists and organic beet seed producers had opposed the move.

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service laboratory in Mandan, N.D., celebrates its 100th anniversary. The lab has helped generations of agriculturalists in the Upper Midwest.

• Drought continues to worsen. Many pastures and hayfields are in bad shape, and concern grows for the region’s corn and soybean crops.

• Some of the area’s spring wheat harvest wraps up several weeks earlier than normal. Yields generally are good; farmers credit early planting and abundant subsoil moisture.

August

• Northstar Agri Industries’ $168 million canola processing plant in Hallock, Minn., holds its grand opening. The plant draws canola from northwest Minnesota; North Dakota, the nation’s leading canola producer; and Canada, the world’s leading canola exporter.

• Congress fails to approve a new U.S. farm bill before it adjourns for the fall elections. Farm group leaders say they’re frustrated and disappointed.

• Drought, rising feed prices, falling livestock prices and shortages of hay and pasture hammer area livestock producers. A year that began favorably for most livestock producers has deteriorated badly for many of them.

September

• CHS announces plans to build a $1.2 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant at Spiritwood, N.D. The plant will produce 2,200 tons of fertilizer daily. Later in the year, the state of North Dakota approves a $1 million grant to N-Flex, a New York company that seeks to convert wasted natural gas into farm fertilizer through the use of portable plants.

• Northwest North Dakota farmers, who were unable to plant many of their fields in 2011 because of the wet spring, enjoy excellent yields. Leftover subsoil moisture from 2011 provides a huge boost to crops this year.

October

• Most of the area’s corn and soybean harvest wraps up. Yields vary greatly: North Dakota and Minnesota, helped by plentiful subsoil moisture, generally fare surprisingly well. Many farmers in South Dakota, where the drought is particularly severe, are hurt badly.

• Some parts of the region receive above-average fall precipitation, while drought worsens in other areas.

November

• Farmland values and rental rates continue to rise. Eighty acres of potato and sugar beet ground in North Dakota’s Walsh County sells for $10,000 per acre, which is thought to be a state record.

• North Dakota voters overwhelming reject a measure that would make it a felony to “maliciously and intentionally” harm a dog, cat or horse. Voter also overwhelming approve a constitutional measure that guarantees the right of farmers to engage in “modern” agriculture.

December

• USDA pegs 2013 U.S. farm exports at a record $145 billion, which would be 50 percent more than in 2009.

• Both Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal Sugar and Wahpeton, N.D.-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative report excellent yields and high sugar content in the 2012 crop. But lower sugar prices are disappointing. The lock-out of American Crystal employees, which began in 2011, remains unresolved

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