GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Winter arrived unusually early this year in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Now, the annual Prairie Grains Conference - considered by some to be the unofficial start of the winter farm meeting season in the area - will return to the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Dec.11-12.

"Come for the knowledge; there will be a lot of expertise available. And come for the networking, which is especially important this year (which was ravaged by terrible harvest weather)," said Charlie Vogel, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, one of seven organizations partnering in the conference.

About 750 to 900 people typically attend the annual event, in which the North Dakota Barley Council, Minnesota Barley Council, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Northland Community and Technical College, Minnesota Farm Bureau, and North Dakota Grain Growers Association also are involved.

This year's event will be "status quo," with the conference structure nearly the same as last year, Vogel said.

Many of the sessions over the two days will focus on wheat, barley and soybeans, often looking at nuts-and-bolts topics such as seeding rates, fertilizer application and crop protection products. Some of these sessions will be held Dec. 11, as will grower and industry meetings.

The Dec. 11 sessions are open to everyone. Organizers request that attendees go to the registration desk when they arrive.

But the event also features a wide range of topics and issues of general interest to agriculturalists. These sessions, which include weather, marketing and exports, among other things, will be held Dec. 12.

Thursday highlights include:

• 9:15 a.m. - Joe Sowers, regional Vice President-Philippines and South Korea for U.S. Wheat Associates, the marketing arm of the U.S. wheat industry, will discuss positive developments in U.S. wheat exports in his region. Prairie Grains wanted to include this upbeat topic in a year that has brought many challenges to wheat growers, Vogel said.

• 10:15 a.m. - John Wheeler, WDAY chief meteorologist, will speak on weather and climate. The weather/climate session, which has featured different presenters through the years, has been highly popular in the past.

• 1:15 p.m. - A panel of experts will discuss marketing.This panel discussion also has been popular at past conferences.

• 11:15 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. - An overview and demonstration of the falling numbers test. Falling numbers reflect quality reductions in wheat that make it less attractive to bakers and millers and usually lead to price discounts. Falling numbers have been a serious problem in parts of the Upper Midwest this crop season, and Prairie Grains organizers wanted to provide information about it, Vogel said.

Pre-registration is strongly encouraged. There is a fee to attend for people who are members of one of the seven organizations involved.

More information or to register in advance: or 218-253-4311, ext 3.