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Jonathan Knutson Forum Communications Co. , Published January 17 2011

Farmers face difficult but pleasant planting decision

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – Area farmers will face a difficult but pleasant decision this spring, says Dwight Aakre, farm management specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Given strong grain prices, “right now it looks like you can put a seed in the ground and make a profit,” he says.

With so many attractive choices, deciding which crops to plant won’t be easy, he says.

In contrast, there have been years farmers struggled to find one crop with potential profit for the upcoming season, he says.

Aakre spoke Jan. 4 at the Lake Region Extension Roundup in Devils Lake, N.D. The annual event, which extended to Jan. 5, was sponsored by the NDSU Extension Service and the Crop Improvement associations of Benson, Cavalier, Nelson, Ramsey, Rolette and Towner counties, all in North Dakota.

Organizers say more than 500 people attended Jan. 4.

Most of the speakers were members of the NDSU Extension Service. Topics ranged from trade issues and chemical use to marketing strategies and professional lawn care management.

Virtually all of the crops grown in the Devils Lake area promise good profits this year, given normal yields and current prices, under projected 2011 crop budgets prepared by the NDSU Extension Service, Aakre says.

Oats and millet were the two exceptions.

Canola projects the highest return at $83.04 per acre.

Flax – the price of which has been boosted by a poor harvest in Canada, the world’s leading producer of the crop – projects a return of $79.30 per acre.

The projected returns are “the highest I’ve ever seen in the 20-some years I’ve been with extension looking at crop budgets,” he says.

In some years, the projected return for spring wheat, the region’s most important crop, is negative, he notes

This year, the projected return for spring wheat is $57.20.

Oil draws big interest

One of the Devils Lake event’s most popular presentations – on booming oil production in northwestern North Dakota – came from Kathy Neset, a geologist and owner of Neset Consulting Services in Tioga, N.D.

Neset moved to North Dakota in the late 1970s, when oil production in the state was strong. That boom collapsed a few years later, but Neset stayed in North Dakota and remained active in the oil industry

The industry today is bigger than ever, she says.

In 1981, North Dakota reached a then record high of 147 oil rigs. “As of today, we have 163 rigs drilling in North Dakota. We’re kind of in uncharted territory here,” she says.

Advanced technology allows more oil to be potentially recovered, creating more drilling activity, she says.

“We’re going to get more oil out of this Williston Basin,” she says.

It’s possible, though unlikely, that the state’s oil industry will go bust like it did 30 years ago, she says.

A massive drop in crude oil prices would cripple oil activity in western North Dakota, she says.

So would government regulation of the technology needed to extract the oil, she says.

A fruitful prairie

Corn, wheat and soybeans are the top crop stars of the Northern Plains.

But Kathy Wiederholt, who spoke Jan. 4 in Devils Lake, hopes aronia, currants and gooseberries can become part of the constellation, too.

Wiederholt is fruit project manager at the Carrington (N.D.) Research Extension Center.

The project, begun in 2006, seeks to provide useful information on fruits that can be grown successfully on the Northern Plains.

Wiederholt, the sole member of the project, has planted these fruits: grapes, aronia (also known as black chokecherry), currants, cherries, elderberries, gooseberries, honeyberry, Juneberries and sea buckthorn.

The idea is, what she learns from the plantings can be passed on to home gardeners or to people interested in commercial fruit operation.

Wiederholt says she spoke to more than 500 people in 2010 and is hopeful that her research will encourage more fruit to be planted in the state.

“I really think this has potential,” she says.

The fruit project does not sell plants to the public.

For more information, contact Wiederholt at kathy.wiederholt@ndsu.edu or (701) 652-2951.

Jonathan Knutson is a writer for Agweek