Stress, anxiety, frustration – farmers throughout the state are feeling it all this year. Whether it was late planting, a cool, wet summer, or a blizzard the second week of October during an already slow harvest, farmers have taken punches from all angles this year.
“We’ve had a cooler than average year and crop development is behind,” said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring on Oct. 9. “Farmers are gritting their teeth and are just so frustrated. The row crops have been developing slow and the cereal grains, we still don’t even have all of them off.
“When they are actually able to harvest, they’re getting stuck. They’re harvesting durum and wheat at moisture levels from 17-24 percent,” he continued. “They’re dealing with scab, vomitoxin, and falling numbers that almost mind-blowing. To add insult to injury, farmers have told me this is the best crop they’ve ever harvested, when it comes to bushels. We’re seeing 50-60 bushel wheat crops.”
With the amount the crop is being downgraded and discounted, it almost doesn’t matter.
“When you’re talking about these types of discounts and damage, then crop insurance makes an adjustment and says you still got 25 bushels that they’re not going to adjust for you, then you go to sell into the marketplace at $2.25, that’s a long ways away from breaking even,” Goehring explained. “You’re almost better off having no crop at that point.”
The recent snow didn’t help the situation. Any wheat left in the fields is now feed. The snow has melted, but the ground is still wet. Farmers are desperately working to get their soybean crop harvested, but the wet ground can’t hold up the machinery. Then there’s the markets.
“The markets aren’t even reacting to the situation,” said Goehring. “We’ve seen wheat come up a little bit, but if you’ve got damaged wheat, you’re not getting anything.”
According to Goehring, the biggest issue in the global market isn’t necessarily China or tariffs, but the value of the U.S. Dollar.
“We’re hit by tariffs all over the world by different countries, but with the value of the dollar where it is, if nobody can afford to buy our stuff, it’s a problem,” he said. “When you look like the strongest economy in the world, people in other countries, privately or individually, are exchanging their currency and buying U.S. currency, which is propping our dollar up. It continues to exasperate the situation.
“They can’t afford to buy your stuff and you can’t afford to sell it cheaper because you’ve got some pretty big dollars tied up into that crop,” Goehring continued. “The only thing we can do is go out and continue to get more markets. We know the world needs food.”
A big factor to why harvest troubles aren’t significantly propping up the markets is because of the country’s healthy stock supply.
“We’ve had five good years and stocks that are enormously large in supply,” Goehring said. “The market is struggling to try and prop up prices when they look at how much they have available. Even with the weather scares, we have huge stocks of wheat, large stocks of corn and large stocks of soybeans. Comparing globally, we have significant stocks of corn and wheat around the world, and soybeans are sitting comfortable. Unless you have a calamity or catastrophe someplace that starts taking stocks down dramatically, you’re probably not going to see prices increase that much.
“To hope and wish and pray on those things is probably not what we want to do,” he continued. “We need to live in the here and now and figure out how to best manage through this. The biggest challenge on every one of these farms is just trying to harvest and market.”
As Agriculture Commissioner, Goehring receives countless calls from farmers and ranchers around the state. Sometimes they’re asking for assistance with particular issues like a MFP payment, or sometimes they are just looking for someone to talk to about what they’re struggling with.
“I want to identify what their challenges are, first off. They know I can’t do anything about the weather, but if it’s something where there’s a call I can make on their behalf that would help them out, I’m happy to do so. We’re all going through the same thing and I can relate to it,” he said.
It’s not always easy to paint a positive picture, and Goehring isn’t trying to give false hope.
“I’m trying to be a rock. I can continue to be the cheerleader for agriculture and I can continue to address issues. I probably can’t blow a lot of smoke and paint a rosy picture right now. I believe things will change, but my crystal ball is a little cloudy. I’m just not sure when and where that will happen.”