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Darrin Odegard, a hired hand for Adams Family Farm in Grand Forks, works on a weld Monday at the shop south of East Grand Forks, Minn. April Baumgarten / Forum News Service

Gearing up: Experts warn of challenging year for agriculture in ND

With costs on the rise, North Dakota farmers could see another challenging year despite projections that some crops could yield positive returns, one expert said.

Soybeans are expected to be another moneymaker for farmers this year, according to the farm management office with the North Dakota State University Extension Service. Producers planted more acres of soybeans than any other crop in North Dakota for the past two years, surpassing hard red spring wheat, in second place, and corn, in third.

That trend likely will continue this year, said Andy Swenson, a farm management specialist with the Extension Service.

"It may not be the highest performer, but it is a steady performer," he said of soybeans.

Farmers could see an average estimated return of $26 per acre on soybeans. That's slightly more than the $24.85 per acre return projected for counties in the north Red River Valley—Grand Forks, Walsh and Pembina. The return in the northeast region—Nelson, Ramsey, Cavalier and Towner counties—could average $55.85 per acre, according to the projected budgets.

U.S. soybeans have become more popular as demand across the world has increased. The U.S. is the largest soybean producer and second-leading exporter, with producers harvesting a predicted record of 4.38 billion bushels for the crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

North Dakota and Minnesota ranked in the top 10 for soybean production last year, though North Dakota was projected to produce 249 million bushels in 2017, down slightly from 2016, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast released in November. Minnesota estimates put the state's 2017 production at 373 million, a 4 percent decrease from 2016, the USDA said.

Planting projections from the USDA aren't expected to be released until March 29, said Darin Jantzi, a North Dakota statistician for the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Both states planted an estimated record high for soybean acres last year—North Dakota had 7.2 million acres while Minnesota planted 8.2 million acres, according to the USDA.

Costs on the rise

Spring wheat also should see an uptick in planting as projected returns for most of North Dakota are estimated between $14 and $20 per acre, but northwest North Dakota and north Red River Valley regions likely will see break-even prices, Swenson said. The south valley, which includes Traill, Cass and Richland counties, could see a slight loss.

Farmers who plant corn this year likely will see a loss of $21 to $47 per acres, with Swenson predicting that producers will commit fewer acres to the crop. Corn has lost appeal with farmers in recent years, with U.S. producers harvesting an estimated 14.2 billion bushels last year, a 7 percent decline from 2016, the USDA said.

The crop could see a loss of $33.74 per acre in the north Red River Valley and a loss of $32.23 in the northeast region.

Projected total costs also are expected to be up about 2 to 5 percent from last year, Swenson said in a statement. He warned that the budgets do not take into account price and yield variability, as well as risk.

"The situation on the revenue side was mixed," he said. "Yields have increased noticeably in many instances but prices for several crops are lower."

The valley has the fewest types of crops that could produce positive returns. That's why he warned farmers this could be a challenging year.

Fewer beets

The Extension Service doesn't conduct forecasts for sugar beets, but American Crystal Sugar Co. will allow 390,000 acres of beets to be planted this year, about 10,000 acres fewer than last year.

That's due in part to the large yields—early estimates said 2017 presented the second highest yield on record—and an estimated record high sugar count from this year's crop, said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for American Crystal.

The increasing yield is a continuing trend as genetics improve, he said.

On the weather side, conditions are trending toward a year with limited flooding but no drought, said Bill Barrett, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

"We're sitting pretty neutral," he said.

Farmers in the Red River Valley watch the world market closely to determine what they should grow, said Paule Sproule, owner of Sproule Farms in Grand Forks. The industry has made advances in genetics, giving producers in North Dakota and Minnesota options when it comes to choosing which crops to plant, he added.

"That's the beauty about North Dakota and part of Minnesota," he said, adding he is optimistic. "We can hold off on our final decision until just before planting."

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

(701) 780-1248
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