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Published February 15, 2013, 11:03 AM

Northeast SD upbeat about beef, corn

CropStop includes visit to Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

Northeast South Dakota pulled off a bigger crop in 2012 than anyone projected, as crops pulled subsoil moisture for respectable yields. With recent snows, farmers are more optimistic about going for the golden corn crop again in 2013.

Agweek made a few CropStop visits on a recent trip along U.S. Highway 12, including chats with livestock producers and a notable up-and-coming processor.

Cool at the Summit

SUMMIT, S.D. — Michael Miller, 47, of Summit, S.D., and his brother, Mark, have a mostly cow-calf operation. They run about 180 cows, including about 50 registered Angus and the rest commercial.

Mark also works full time for another feedlot. Michael’s son, Greg, a recent graduate of South Dakota State University in animal nutrition, recently joined the operation. The Millers have farmland, but rent it out for now, and plan to farm it again when the lease runs out in 2016.

The Millers sold their calves in December and the market was down a little bit, but they were still happy with that. “We’re watching the markets for next year, so we’re happy with what we see so far, hoping things just hold steady,” he says.

Cattle numbers and the prospects for next year’s corn crop being better than 2012 are the two things that look most encouraging, Miller thinks. If corn could be in the $5-per-bushel range, that would be better than the $7 range, Miller says.

The Millers have prepared for drought by building up more corn stalk feed supplies and straw because the hay crop wasn’t there in 2012. Recently, they hired a drilling rig to look for water because their 180-foot existing well was only pumping 2 gallons a minute. They got about 14 inches of snow on Feb. 9 and 10. They’re happy about it, but they hate pushing all the snow.

“That’s about a draw there,” Miller says.

Northern Beef Packers is progressing

ABERDEEN, S.D. — It isn’t bringing in the cattle it eventually will, but Northern Beef Packers LP is progressing, according to a company spokesperson.

“We’re taking in all kinds of cattle, primarily the ‘choice’ and higher categories,” and “under 30 months of age,” says Laure Swanson, director of marketing and public relations. She declines to discuss put-through numbers for competitive reasons.

Swanson says the company is taking in mostly local cattle, from South Dakota and into North Dakota, but eventually wants to get cattle from Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and extreme northwest Iowa.

In the past three weeks, the company has hired Bob Wright as chief operating officer. Wright has been in the meat business for about 30 years, most recently with House of Raeford in Raeford, N.C., Pilgrim’s Pride of Pittsburgh, Texas, and earlier was with ConAgra Foods and Cargill. David Palmer remains Northern Beef Packers’ CEO.

The company has hired 420 of its expected 560 employees, Swanson says. They are in the process of training and have food safety processes in place, at higher standards than required.

The plant is completing paperwork for export markets. Russia was on the docket, but its recent decision to stop U.S. beef imports has changed that. Others on the list include Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Mexico, Lebanon, Singapore and Thailand.

Northern Beef Packers is the first greenfield packing plant built in the U.S. in about 30 years. The $150 million plant is designed to handle 1,500 head per day per shift. “We’re at one shift right now,” Swanson says.

And now: back to corn

IPSWICH, S.D. — After a series of recent storms, farmers in northeast South Dakota are dropping their discussions about returning to more wheat in their rotations and again are talking more about more soybeans and corn, partly because of favorable crop insurance underpinnings.

“As the winter’s worn on, it’s becoming evident we can still get moisture in this country,” says Craig Haugaard, grain marketing manager for North Central Farmers Elevator group, based in Ipswich, S.D.

Haugaard says northeast South Dakota has been “incredibly blessed” with weather conditions for handling a big crop of corn that came in 2012, despite dry conditions that toasted crops in the southern part of the state.

“Not just our elevator, but about all of the people who had ground piles didn’t get hit with bad weather,” Haugaard says.

The company’s Sun Terminal, about 2½ miles east of Ipswich on U.S. Highway 12, for example, had its 1.4-million bushel corn pile picked up on Feb. 13. An earlier pile of 950,000 bushels was picked up there in late November. That elevator site loads 26- and 54-car trains, mostly with wheat, while corn goes into ethanol.

Crops in northeast South Dakota and trade areas for the North Central Farmers Elevator group came in about 35 percent better than what site managers had predicted in July for grain handle.

“We were in a weird little area, where yields were better than expected,” he says, compared with southern South Dakota and the rest of the country.

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