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Published February 03, 2014, 10:34 AM

2014 KMOT Ag Expo finds lower prices, profit potential

In his three decades of farming, Mark Seastrand has seen good years, bad years and everything in between. So the Sheyenne, N.D., farmer isn’t alarmed by the recent plunge in crop prices and the more-difficult-to-achieve profits that go with them.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

MINOT, N.D. — In his three decades of farming, Mark Seastrand has seen good years, bad years and everything in between. So the Sheyenne, N.D., farmer isn’t alarmed by the recent plunge in crop prices and the more-difficult-to-achieve profits that go with them.

“I’d say we’re back to more normal conditions. These prices we’ve had the last six, seven years — we knew they couldn’t keep on,” Seastrand said.

Seastrand talked with Agweek, Jan. 29 at the annual KMOT Ag Expo at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot. More than 350 exhibitors and an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people were expected to attend the show, the region’s biggest indoor wintertime ag show. It ran through Jan. 31.

Roads in the Minot area generally were in good driving condition during the Ag Expo, and the mercury stayed close to normal for late January.

Through noon Jan. 29, “We’ve had really good (visitor) traffic,” said Gregg Schaefer, the show’s general manager.

Typically, the show draws its biggest crowds its second day, Schaefer said. He speculated that many visitors would spend two days at the show.

Exhibitors at the show told him that visitors “seem to be in a buying mood,” he said.

The Ag Expo’s size reflects its wide range of exhibitors who offer products and services for the many different crops and types of livestock raised in the Upper Midwest.

North Dakota leads the nation in production of a number of crops, including canola, dry beans and flax, said Darin Jantzi, director of the North Dakota Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. He staffed a booth at the Ag Expo.

“There’s so much uniqueness in our state and our region because of the diversification,” he said.

Canadian connection

As always, the Ag Expo had a strong Canadian connection. Southern Canada and the northern United States have similar soil and climate, so farmers on both sides of the border grow the same crops and need the same equipment and crop inputs.

Bill Dueck, of JJEB Enterprises in Horndean, Manitoba, just north of the North Dakota border, attended the Ag Expo again this year. His company manufactures slotted combine screens for dry beans, peas and soybeans. Its name comes from the initials of the first names of four brothers; Bill is the “B.”

JJEB products are used from northern Canada to Nebraska, Dueck said.

Despite a wet spring in 2013, Canadian farmers generally enjoyed excellent crops last year, he said.

Western Ag Professional Agronomy represents another of the many cross-border connections at the Ag Expo. The company, based in Saskatoon, Saskat-chewan, recently opened an office in Mandan, N.D., and has a booth at the Minot show.

Clint Weisenburger, a Mandan-based professional agronomy consultant with the company, said Western Ag Professional Agronomy is eager to work with customers on both sides of the border.

Lower profits

Farmers and others at the Ag Expo wondered whether lower crop prices and declining profitability will cause a big decline in sales of ag equipment, products and services.

Seastrand doesn’t anticipate a big dropoff right away.

“I think enough money has been made in farming the last few years that we’re not going to see a lot less spending. But I could see that happening a year from now,” he said.

It’s likely, however, that some farm families are cutting back on living expenses, or soon will be, because of lower farm profitability, he said.

Some land rental rates will need to be renegotiated downward to reflect lower crop prices, he said.

Whither wheat?

Skimping on crop inputs isn’t the right place to save money, experts say.

Farmers should continue to seek out certified seed, said Gonzalo Rojas, a member of North Dakota State University’s Department of Plant Services and assistant director of North Dakota Foundation Seedstocks.

Rojas, who staffed a booth at the Ag Expo. said Elgin-ND is the type of high-quality seed variety that farmers should consider. Elgin has a number of strengths, including excellent disease resistance, according to information from the North Dakota Crop Improvement and Seed Association.

Seastrand, who raises barley, wonders if small grains will regain some of the acres they’ve lost to corn in recent years. Though prices of small grains have dropped, the price of corn has dropped even more.

“It will be interesting to see what happens with small grains,” he said

Seastrand thinks most area farmers will cope successfully with changing ag economics.

“Like I said, we’re back to normal. We knew this was coming,” he said.

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