Jonathan Knutson / Agweek Staff Writer
ELIZABETH, Minn. — Two important things will be changing in David Holt's life. But two even more important things will not: He continues to farm near Elizabeth, west of Fergus Falls. And he continues to fight the good fight, and successfully so, against Parkinson's disease.
There are only a few things that everyone in modern agriculture agrees on. We all dislike food waste. We all stress farm safety. We all value timely rains. And we all agree that it's extremely difficult to get started in farming or ranching without an "in" — an established farmer or farm couple who provides access to land. Usually, the connection is a relative, most often a parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle. Occasionally the tie is a farm couple nearing retirement without children of their own or whose children aren't interested in farming.
Bryon Parman was a Nebraska farm kid who had seen the ocean only once when he joined the U.S. Navy. Now, after spending six years as a Navy search-and-rescue swimmer, earning his doctorate in agricultural economics at Kansas State University and serving as an ag economist at Mississippi State University, he's returning to the Midwest to work with farmers, ranchers, and other agriculturalists. Parman is the new farm management specialist with North Dakota State University Extension, a position once held by Dwight Aakre, who retired in 2016 after 32 years in the post.
Federally subsidized crop insurance is controversial. Now, with the U.S. Senate taking up the 2018 farm bill, a crop insurance trade group has launched a website that seeks to provide senators and others with state-specific information on crop insurance. The interactive map at cropinsuranceinmystate.org offers information such as the number of crop insurance policies, acres insured, value of insurance protection, how much farmers paid for coverage, how much insurers paid to cover losses and hail protection coverage.
A new report reinforces what many agriculturalists already know: Public-sector spending on agriculture research in the U.S. and many other high-income countries continues to decline, challenging farmers' ability to produce enough food to meet growing demand. Public ag research and spending development peaked in 2009 and, adjusted for inflation, fell by an average of 1.5 percent annually from 2009 to 2013, according to the report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Service.
I grow up on a North Dakota farm with beef cattle and small grains. No chickens, though, which was fine with me. Chickens are noisy and messy, and I wanted nothing to do with them. Still don't, never will. But a growing number of Americans think otherwise. Although firm statistics are tough to come by, there's an explosion of interest in "backyard" or "home-raised" chickens across our country. One small measure of that: I regularly receive emails from public relations folks promoting a new book on the subject.
BROCKET, N.D. — The early summer afternoon is warm and windy, though not oppressively so, and contented "baas" ring out in the sheep barn. Luke Lillehaugen looks over the flock with an experienced eye and says, "Well, we like sheep. And we like some of the things happening in the sheep industry." Lillehaugen and his father, Maynard Lillehaugen, operate Lillehaugen Farms near Brocket, N.D. They raise small grains, cattle and sheep; about 180 sheep lambed this spring.
Gordon Stoner is making another "act of faith" this crop season. The Outlook, Mont., farmer is planting durum again this spring, even though durum prices aren't attractive and moisture conditions aren't favorable. "Durum prices just aren't real good. And we're going to need timely rains—regularly and with substantial amounts of precipitation," he says. "I'm still planting it, though.
RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. — It began as a family project to generate extra money to help the children pay for college. Fifteen years later, stalk by stalk, plant by plant, it supplies asparagus to consumers in a big chunk of northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota. "It can be a lot of work, but we've really enjoyed it," says Sharon Weiss, who operates Weiss Asparagus Farm with her husband, Ron, and their now-grown children Shelby, Kristen, Sara and Matt. About 15 part-time employees help, too.
There it was on the salt container label, the proud proclamation that the product inside was "non-GMO." I looked at the label a second time and then a third time, not quite trusting my eyes, before telling myself, "But salt doesn't have genes. Of course it's not genetically modified. Why bother labeling it non-GMO?"