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Published February 07, 2014, 03:40 PM

Eastern Ag Day looks at key topics

Dennis Kubischta will stick with wheat and soybeans this spring. Planting corn doesn’t interest him, not when the crop is fetching less than $4 per bushel.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

HATTON, N.D. — Dennis Kubischta will stick with wheat and soybeans this spring. Planting corn doesn’t interest him, not when the crop is fetching less than $4 per bushel.

“A lot of people will still plant it, though,” said the Hope, N.D., farmer.

Kubischta was among roughly 50 people who attended Eastern Ag Day in Hatton, N.D.

North Dakota State University Extension Service officials from Grand Forks, Traill and Griggs counties gave presentations at the event, as did two extension specialists based on the NDSU campus.

This was the fourth year for Eastern Ag Day, organized by extension officials in Griggs, Grand Forks, Traill and Steele counties, all in North Dakota.

“The big farm shows are great, but we like bringing the meeting to the producers,” Lionel Olson, a Grand Forks County agent, said of Eastern Ag Day’s modest size.

“All the speakers today are talking about topics that they (farmers in the four countries) have asked us about,” he said.

Hatton, a town of about 750 in Traill County in east-central North Dakota, is the birthplace of Arctic pilot and aviator Carl Ben Eilson. The Hatton area also is known for some excellent cropland.

Farmers in Traill County and adjacent counties grow a wide range of crops, including corn, wheat, soybeans and dry edible beans. Corn has become particularly important in the area in recent years, thanks in part to attractive prices. Sharply lower prices this winter, however, are causing many farmers in east-central North Dakota to think about planting less corn.

Cash-flowing corn

Dwight Aakre, extension farm management specialist, looked at whether corn will cash-flow, or produce a positive return over variable costs, when it sells for less than $4 per bushel.

His conclusion: For some farmers, yes, for others, no.

Producers who have little or no machinery debt, little or no land debt and own most or all of their land generally can cash-flow corn for less than $4 per bushel, he said.

But farmers with relatively high fixed costs, including land debt and machinery debt, could struggle to cash-flow corn at current prices, he said.

An axiom in agricultural economics is that farmers who make good decisions during periods of prosperity are in much stronger shape to survive difficult times that follow. Aakre made the same point at Eastern Ag Day.

“You don’t manage for tough times when times are tough. You manage for tough times when times are good,” he said.

Now that ag prices are lower, farmers will look for ways to reduce their variable costs, which includes expenses such as fertilizer and rental rates. But producers need to manage carefully, making sure that they protect potential yields, he says.

Farmers also should consider planting crops other than corn, wheat and soybeans, although opportunities with other crops often are limited, Aakre says.

Other speakers

Also speaking at Eastern Ag Day: Olson; Jill Haakenson, Griggs County agent; Alyssa Scheve, Traill County agent; Willie Huot, Grand Forks County agent; and Hans Kandel, extension agronomist.

Olson spoke about crop diseases that can threaten corn and soybeans. The list includes Goss’s wilt, a bacterial wilt and leaf blight first identified in Nebraska.

Haakenson looked at what farmers should consider when evaluating whether their land is suitable for tile drainage. She recommended that farmers check out a web soil survey, Click here.

Scheve talked about the potential of cover crops. Traditionally, cover crops have been most popular with livestock producers, but they can benefit crop producers, too, she said.

Huot spoke about land rental agreements. Such agreements, to be successful, need to benefit both the landlord and the tenant, he said.

Kandel talked the importance of crop rotations. Farmers need to consider the benefits that can come from varying the crops on a field, he said.