Breadbaskets of last resort in Dakotas see high crop pricesWhile the heart of crop country bakes, the northern edges of the Midwest and Plains states, along with some southern states, are still producing — and benefiting from higher prices.
By: ALAN BJERGA, Bloomberg News
In a field near Steele, N.D., Anthony Mock points out golden tassels forming on corn stalks a foot above his head. While farmers in the heart of the Corn Belt cope with the worst drought in half a century, he and his neighbors in the Northern Plains are seeing signs of a rich harvest.
“We’re fortunate because we’ve caught some rain,” said Mock, 39. “We should have enough moisture to carry us through pollination and be OK.”
Mock, whose Chevy pickup sports CORN vanity plates, was concerned when he added 500 acres of the grain to his crop mix this year as the federal government forecast record output. Yet his gamble is paying off as the worst U.S. drought in five decades has reduced the nation’s projected harvest and pushed the value of the surviving crop to a near-record $7.99 a bushel.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Roger Johnson, former North Dakota agriculture commissioner and now president of the Washington-based National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest growers organization. “I would be getting crops out of the field and into the grain elevator as fast as possible.”
While the heart of crop country bakes, the northern edges of the Midwest and Plains states, along with some southern states, are still producing — and benefiting from higher prices.
Minnesota, North Dakota, North Carolina and Texas have at least half their corn crop still listed as in “good” or “excellent condition,” according to the Department of Agriculture. For soybeans, Mississippi, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and North Dakota are at similar levels.
Among spring-wheat growers, only South Dakota has less than half of its crop in top conditions, according to the USDA.
Almost a third, or about 1,300, of the nation’s counties spread across 29 states have been declared natural-disaster areas by the USDA. The dry weather pushed soybean futures to a record $16.91 a bushel on July 20, and corn a day earlier rose within a penny of its all-time high.
North Dakota, however, recorded rainfall in June closer to normal than all but two of the top 10 U.S. corn-producing states. As of July 17, none of the state was experiencing extreme drought, even as 28 percent of the High Plains and 12 percent of the Midwest were in such conditions, according to the government.
The state’s spring wheat, important for bread products and flour exports, has the highest plant-quality ratings in the nation. Its corn conditions are second only to neighboring Minnesota’s. Early-season oat and barley harvests are under way, before the plants can be harmed by drought.
North Dakota farmers this year sowed 3.2 million acres with corn, triple the acreage of a decade ago. This was due to the development of a local ethanol market and new seed varieties from Monsanto and Dupont that are better able to withstand the state’s harsher climate and shorter growing season. Nationwide, plantings were at their highest since 1937.
The state’s good fortune this year is based partly on disastrous conditions in 2011, when floods prevented many farmers from planting.