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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published December 31 2013

Weather, crop prices top stories in regional ag during 2013

Weather, crop prices and events in Washington, D.C., dominated Upper Midwest agriculture in 2013. Many of the year’s strongest images and memories involve the early October blizzard that hammered the western Dakotas, killing tens of thousands of animals and attracting worldwide attention.

Following is a look back at some of the notable ag issues and events in the past year.

January

  • On Jan. 1, Congress extends parts of the existing farm bill for nine months. Ag leaders, who wanted new legislation, are upset. Subsequent efforts to pass a new farm bill are unsuccessful.

  • Moisture shortages created by the 2012 drought worry farmers and ranchers.

    February

  • Land prices keep rising. One report finds that North Dakota land values rose 46 percent in 2012.

  • Russian officials ban imports of U.S. meat, citing concerns about ractopamine. U.S. meat industry officials insist the controversial additive is safe and say Russia just wants to be more self-sufficient in meat production. Russian leaders say later that they’re willing to lift parts of the ban.

    March

  • Low water levels in the Mississippi River, a result of the 2012 drought, complicate efforts to bring nitrogen fertilizer to the Upper Midwest on barges.

  • Sugar prices, which had been high in 2012 and 2011, continue to drop because of higher world production and an increase in the amount of Mexican sugar allowed into the U.S. Lower prices remain a concern throughout the year.

  • The prices at which area farmers can insure most of their 2013 crops under revenue and yield protection policies are released. The prices for corn, wheat and soybeans are all the third-highest on record.

    April

  • Crop prices keep falling. One example: The average per-bushel price of spring wheat at area grain elevators surveyed weekly by Agweek falls to $7.52 from $8.36 a year earlier. By year’s end, the average price is down to $6.63.

  • A cool, late spring delays planting in much of the region. It also slows growth of pasture and hay.

  • Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar and union employees finally settle their dispute. About 1,300 union workers had been locked out of their jobs for 20 months.

    May

  • Plans are announced for a $1.5 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant near Grand Forks.

  • A separate project, a $1.4 billion nitrogen fertilizer plant near Spiritwood, N.D., was proposed earlier. Boosters of the projects say they would provide more and cheaper nitrogen for area farmers. It was unclear by year’s end, however, when or if either plant might be built.

  • Corn is king. High prices and improved varieties encourage Upper Midwest farmers to plant more of it than ever.

  • Much of the region receives heavy rains. For instance, Bowman, in southwest North Dakota, was hit with 11.3 inches during the month, four times more than normal.

    June

  • More rain hammers the region. Northeast North Dakota, for instance, receives as much as 12 inches of rain in the first two weeks of the month. The combination of May and June rains prevents many fields from being planted and leads to an estimated 4.4 million prevented-planting acres in North Dakota alone.

  • Many area farmers decide against prevented planting and end up planting soggy fields two to three weeks later than normal. That increases the need to avoid an early freeze.

    July

  • Unusually cool weather threatens the outlook for row crops, especially corn. But wheat and small grains benefit.

  • Heavy spring and early-summer rains bolster pastures and hay crops.

    August

  • Much of the region turns hot and dry, stressing still-growing row crops. But the area’s wheat harvest is a good one, thanks in part to cool conditions earlier.

  • Falling corn prices improve profit margins for livestock producers who feed it.

    September

  • The month is unusually warm and free of frost. That allows many late-planted fields to mature, putting hundreds of millions of dollars into farmers’ pockets.

  • Dakota Growers Pasta Co., one of America’s largest pasta companies, is sold to Post Holdings Inc. for $370 million. Post includes such familiar brands as Grape Nuts and Shredded Wheat.

    October

  • A blizzard unexpectedly hits the western Dakotas. Many animals are still in summer pastures, which offer little protection, and the death count soars into the thousands. The full extent of losses won’t be known until spring. The disaster is magnified by the federal government shutdown and the lack of a farm bill, which limits what the U.S. Department of Agriculture can do to help.

  • Ranchers and others from across the country donate money and replacement livestock to ranchers hurt by the blizzard.

    November

  • The Environmental Protection Agency announces it will roll back requirements of the federal Renewable Fuels Standard in 2014. Ethanol supporters vow to fight the change.

  • Propane shortages plague farmers who want to dry wet corn.

    December

  • A San Francisco-based investment banking company buys an idled beef plant in South Dakota. White Oak Global paid $44 million for Dakota Beef Packers in Aberdeen, which filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year.