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Jay Lehr, a conservative futurist, author and scholar from the Chicago area, offered numerous pro-Trump administration assessments of the political and economic outlook, at the first Northern Corn and Soy Expo on Feb. 13, 2018, at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D. Photo taken Feb. 13, 2018, in Fargo. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Northern Corn and Soy Expo has big start

FARGO, N.D. — The first Northern Corn and Soybean Expo is in the books, combining forces in the region's two row crop enterprises and boosting overall attendance for what had been a two-day event.

More than 750 people registered for the event at the Fargodome on Feb. 13, with nearly 600 attending a BASF training for dicamba herbicide use in 2018. New formulations of the herbicide and dicamba-resistant crops are promoted as a tool for confronting herbicide-resistant weeds, but the technology has caused drift and damage concerns for non-dicamba beans.

The Expo offered a broad range of topics, including Jay Lehr who bills himself as a "futurist" and science officer with the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. Lehr delivered an entertaining mix of good and bad news.

On the negative side, Lehr predicted that corn yields will continue to increase in the next few years, and "we're not going to look for any major price increases in the next couple of years. Things are bad. We're going to have to figure out how to stay in the black."

One way to stay afloat is to "produce more corn without spending a great deal more money." He urged farmers seek "economic advice" and said advances will continue with "big data" and genetic manipulation with "CRISPR" technology that aids in genetic modification.

On the plus side, he praised the Trump administration for backing out of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, and said he's "absolutely positive" the administration won't back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He said TPP may not be good for farmers, per se, but is good for the entire country.

He said corn yields are likely to increase from an average of 169 bushels per acre to 200 bushels per acre in the "not too distant future," and eventually are likely to reach 300 bushels per acre. He said genetic modification technology is needed to deal with herbicide-resistant weeds.

The right hand

Lehr, who claims to be "conservative but apolitical," noted he gets occasional briefings with top White House officials. He said Trump is "very positive on the farm bill" and that his appearance before the American Farm Bureau Federation as a good sign.

"I think we'll have a farm bill we can live with," Lehr said. "I don't think we have to worry about crop insurance" degradation. He praised the administration for approving pipeline projects and for relieving restrictions on the use of lead pellets in firearms.

Lehr praised the Trump administration's defeat of the Waters of the the United States (WOTUS) proposal by the Obama administration as a major victory for farmers. He said he's encouraged about the administrative efforts to tie food assistance to "some kind of work requirement." He said 93 percent of U.S. farmers will see a positive impact from the recent tax reform.

He said farmers will benefit by increasing caps on estates that require the payment of estate taxes. He derided global warming — or human impact on it — as a hoax.

Ryan Wanzek, Jamestown, N.D., co-chair of the Expo, and a director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, said the attendance exceeded expectations, in part because of mandatory dicamba training, but will probably shoot for the same number next year.

Matt Gast, Valley City, N.D., and co-chair and member of the North Dakota Soybean Council, said the one-day event exceeded two-day attendance totals for previous events and that they're already planning for next year.