Around the Midwest, many people directly involved in agriculture have heard of a "million-dollar rain" - when an inch or two of precipitation comes during the hot and humid period that is so important to the life or death of a crop.
A two-inch rain in late June or early July? That could add a lot to a farmer's bottom line, as well as his or her own peace of mind. And most everyone in farm country knows, it comes with a unique trickle-down effect - when farmers are blessed with a million-dollar rain, the economy that relies upon them brightens as well. It's an important circle.
That's why million-dollar rains - or the lack of them - come into conversation often around here.
Is it possible North Dakota has had a "billion-dollar snow"?
We didn't coin that phrase ourselves, but heard it from a business source. As soybean producers wait out the untimely wet weather, the phrase has an unnerving ring to it.
Upwards of a foot of heavy, wet snow blanketed the region last week, delaying the harvest and potentially causing irreparable damage to crops - especially soybeans. The trouble with the snow is twofold: It has greatly delayed the harvest, while also causing damage to the beans themselves. Heavy snow can bend the plants downward, making it difficult for machinery to get a complete harvest. Many farmers are expecting a decreased yield because of the snowstorm.
Our company's agriculture newspaper, Agweek, has reported that in some areas of North Dakota, this year's soybean crop looked like a record-breaker, with yields of up to 60 bushels per acre. Now, after the snow, yields could be down and some acres might not be harvested.
Randy Grueneich, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Barnes County, told Agweek that soybean losses there could be catastrophic. He said that with current market conditions, farmers were planning to put up storage facilities so they could have the potential of selling later, when elevators start buying again - providing needed cash later even at depressed prices. But, he told Agweek, a crop insurance check for snow-damaged beans won't come close to the former alternative.
North Dakota produces more than 200 million bushels of soybeans annually, generating $2.1 billion last year. Last week's snow might not be a true billion-dollar catastrophe for the state, but you get the picture.
It's been a frustrating year for many soybean farmers. Earlier this year, when President Trump announced tariffs more than $200 billion of Chinese goods imported into the U.S., China responded with tariffs on $60 billion of American goods. Soybeans - an important player in U.S.-China trade - were among the products that China penalized in return.
The federal government countered with an aid program for soybean farmers, totaling $12 billion, but before that can be disbursed, the crop must be out of the ground.
Though harvest conditions are particularly troublesome for soybeans, some other late-season crops also are still in the fields. The list includes edible beans, corn, potatoes and sunflowers. Farmers with unharvested fields of those crops share in the pain, especially since ag commodity prices in general are poor.
Whatever the unharvested crop, last week's snowstorm was a big problem. And so goes the roller-coaster season of the 2018 ag producer.