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Published August 15, 2008, 12:00 AM

Happy to be harvesting

Farmers expecting profitable results
Dan Spiekermeier was right where he wanted to be Thursday: out in the field harvesting wheat.

By: Jon Knutson, The Forum

Dan Spiekermeier was right where he wanted to be Thursday: out in the field harvesting wheat.

Now the Sheldon, N.D., farmer needs a week or so of dry weather to finish the job.

He also would appreciate warm weather – temperatures in the mid 80s would be best – to help the growth of his slow-to-develop soybeans and corn.

“We should have the moisture we need. Now it’s time to get our wheat,” said Spiekermeier, a farmer since 1984.

What promises to be a good wheat harvest in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota is beginning.

Better-than-average yields combined with strong prices should make this a profitable year for area farmers who grow wheat, North Dakota’s most important crop.

Wheat is selling for about $8 per bushel, about $2.50 more than a year ago.

Potential yields look good, too. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

E Eighty-three percent of Minnesota’s wheat crop is in good to excellent condition. Most of the state’s wheat is grown in northwestern Minnesota.

E Forty-eight percent of North Dakota wheat is in good to excellent shape, 52 percent in poor or fair condition.

Wheat didn’t fare well in the western part of the state, which didn’t get enough rain.

The crop did much better in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, which received more moisture.

Area corn and soybean fields also look good, but on average are about 10 days behind their normal development because of the cool early summer, said John Kringler, Cass County Extension agent.

Warm weather would help corn and soybean plants mature, reducing the danger of an early frost, he said.

Rains over the past week probably provided enough moisture to carry most corn and soybean fields through the rest of the growing season, Kringler said.

Recent rains also helped the area sugar beet crop, said Jeff Schweitzer, spokesman for Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co.

The cooperative expects yields of 22 tons to 23 tons per acre on 422,000 acres, he said.

Those yields would be considered average, he said.

Even if the weather cooperates, Spiekermeier won’t finish harvesting corn until well into November.

His wheat and soybean fields promise good yields.

Some of his corn was hurt by too much rain earlier in the summer.

Spiekermeier hopes to make money at current prices, but rising expenses are a huge worry.

Once, he spent $20 to $40 per acre on fertilizer for his corn. Now he spends $150 to $200 per acre.

Corn prices have also increased – a bushel fetches about $5, up from about $2 a few years ago.

But because farmers have more invested in their crop, they’re hurt worse if prices fall or yields are poor.

The problem looks to be even greater next year as expenses continue to rise.

Wheat will cost about $7.50 to $8 per bushel to grow next year, leaving farmers little, if any, profit, at current prices, said Andrew Swenson, North Dakota State University Extension Service family and farm management specialist.

For now, though, Spiekermeier is concentrating on this year’s wheat.

His 81-year-father, Tom, helps out during harvest.

Dan Spiekermeier said his 77-year-old mother, Connie, mentioned how much her son and husband enjoy harvest.

“She said, ‘I can tell you guys are happier when you’re out there,’ ” Dan Spiekermeier said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530