#6 — Weather woes presented challenges for farmers and ranchers

Allan Blanks/MDN Travis Johnson, left, and his brother Tanner provide feed to the cattle at the Johnson farm in the Burlington area.

After experiencing the warmest winter in 14 years, farmers and ranchers across North Dakota faced excessive amounts of precipitation alongside weather related damages to crops and fields in 2016.

Pam Brekke, a farmer from Edmore, described 2016 as an overall nightmare.

“We got over 39 inches of rain,” Brekke said. “Our fields were so wet that we couldn’t harvest. So, we ended up having to rent track to put on our combines to keep them afloat in the mud. Every day was such a struggle, you were spinning in mud and it was such a burden. I cannot wait for this year to be over.”

From the onset, 2016 was met with optimism as the warm weather provided favorable conditions for calving and harvesting crops.

However, the warm conditions along with the added rain prompted concerns about fungal infections from farmers.

“Yields were really good this year,” said Paige Brummond, the Ward County Extension agent in Minot. “Growing conditions were okay, we had an early spring which resulted in an early harvest for a lot of people. In all, the yields were very good across the county and throughout the region. However, some of the durum and some of the wheat had issues with diseases. When the quality of the crop isn’t as high, the price received for the crop takes a hit.”

A comparison provided by the USDA- National Agricultural Statistics Service during the months of October 2015 and October 2016 reveal that durum wheat dropped from $6.53 per bushel down to $5.44 per bushel.

Another decline was reported as winter wheat fell from $3.80 per bushel to $3.24.

According to the National Weather Service in Bismarck, from March-May, Minot and its surrounding region averaged a record setting 47 degrees.

In addition to the increased warmth, farmers and ranchers saw 21.3 inches of precipitation which is five inches above the normal average.

Excessive rain, moisture related diseases and powerful winds contributed to the stress of crops and farmers alike.

Throughout Burke County, reports of wheat streak mosaic virus infected the spring wheat while hail storms in early July damaged fields in Bottineau, Pierce and McHenry counties.

Based on figures from the USDA-NASS, spring wheat dipped from $4.59 per bushel to $4.37.

Beyond the influence of weather, Brummond shared that lowered commodity prices stunted the profits made by farmers.

“The reason it’s a tough time in agriculture has to do with the commodity prices,” Brummond said. “You can produce a lot and do your best producing the yield but when the prices are so low, your bottom dollar is still going to be tough.”

Corn showed a steep drop in price as its average cost per bushel slumped from $3.35 to $2.95.

In spite of the weather-beaten season, commodities such as soybeans rose from $8.45 per cwt to $8.93 per cwt and canola increased from $14.80 per cwt to $15.90.

“There’s good sides to everything,” Brekke said. “We were able to get all of our crop off in good condition, our barley all made malting and the quality was really good. The wheat didn’t have any disease and we had the best yield in corn we’ve ever had. So, all hard work pays off.”

While farmers worked to overcome the weather, beef producers were able to find some benefits from the unseasonable conditions.

“The long fall is beneficial to livestock producers because it extends the grazing season and allow opportunities to forage,” said Julie Schaff Ellingson, the executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

Along with prolonging the grazing season, calves benefited from the abnormally warm weather too.

“Most of the calves are born between the middle of March to the end of April,” Ellingson said. “For the most part, we were able to avoid a lot of storms and excessive cold. So, this made for a milder calving season for so many people.”

After an astronomical market in 2014, the beef industry saw a sharp decline during 2015.

As 2016 comes to a close, Ellingson said the market is becoming more stable which provides producers reasons to be optimistic.

“As of late, prices tend to be on the rebound and have moderated some,” Ellingson said.

While the beef industry strives to stabilize its market, the NDSA is ensuring the strength of the business by encouraging younger ranchers to participate in Tomorrow’s Top Hands Beef Leadership Summit.

“Young people are embracing beef production as a career goal,” Ellingson said. “I think that shows promise for our industry’s future. Over the course of the year, we have had a surge of interest from young people and they are taking on more active roles in the organization.”

Although 2016 provided difficult challenges, Brekke believes 2017 will be a better year and encourages farmers and ranchers to work hard and always hope for the best.