More than 75 farmers and others interested in agriculture showed up at the annual meeting of the Ward County Ag Improvement Association Thursday at the North Central Research Extension Center to discuss numerous crop, soil health and marketing topics on the state, national and global level.
Jon Stika, an area resource soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, emphasized the importance of soil health by highlighting the complicated roles soil aggregates, bacteria and fungi play in the overall vitality and fertility of soil using demonstrations.
Using a recently released survey of farmer concerns for the upcoming year, Stika said three of the top five concerns fertilizer, fuel and pesticides were petroleum-based. With the high cost of gas last summer still fresh on farmers' minds, Stika said the correct balance of fungi and bacteria in an aggregate-rich field could help lessen input costs and increase productivity.
There were more than 75 people in attendance at the Ward County Ag Improvement Association’s annual meeting on Thursday where experts spoke about soil health, national and global marketing trends and disaster insurance, among other topics.
The key to soil health, he said, was to minimize soil disturbance, maximize crop diversity, keep soil covered and to keep living roots in the soil as long as possible because the easiest source of food for microorganisms living in the soil is the sugar that is released from the roots.
With the drastic price fluctuations of the past 18 months and the overall volatility of the commodity markets over the past few years, it took two men Mike Krueger, founder and president of The Money Farm, a grain marketing advisory service, and Frayne Olson, a North Dakota State University crop economist and management specialist to explain all of the national and global factors that contributed to the volatility.
After a stellar year of wheat exports for the U.S. in 2007, foreign producers, particularly the EU, Russia, Ukraine, Australia and Canada, rebounded in 2008 both in terms of crop quantity and overall quality, resulting in a production record by more than 50 million bushels. Although quality is still a concern for many countries, the overall increase resulted in more competition for the U.S., hurting export numbers.
Soybean supplies in the U.S. are tight due to an increase in exports, but the focus is on South America, particularly Brazil and Argentina, who combined produce and export more soybeans than the U.S. The recent credit crunch hit South America at harvest time, negatively impacting crop quality, and now analysts are waiting to see what happens in the South American market because it will have a direct impact on the U.S. soybean market.
Although the corn industry has taken a few hits this year in terms of early quality fears and feed issues, the rapid fall of gas prices resulted in the bankruptcy filing this fall by VeraSun, the second-largest ethanol producer, who used 250 to 300 million bushels per year in production.
The net result of these factors and others in the market was, "massive de-leveraging, massive liquidation, recession fears and demand reductions," Krueger said. But, "The fundamentals of the business are not near as bad as the prices have shown us." Olson added, "In the last few weeks, the ag market has taken a life of its own, whereas before it followed the rest of the market."
While there are still many unknowns floating about in the early part of 2009, come Monday, some of those might be answered when the USDA releases its final reports on corn and soybean production numbers as well as other market information that could help farmers make important crop and acre decisions for the year.