A TV star

As many of you might have already noticed, I’m now a superstar.

I have between 20 and 30 seconds of on-camera fame each week. The fan mail, autograph requests and pleas for my appearance at children’s birthday parties have been overwhelming…

Fine. That’s a lie, but recording a short weekly segment about Agweek for our newest endeavor, AgweekTV, has been a fun new experience for me.

AgweekTV is a tremendous point of pride for all of us here at Agweek.

The TV show started as an idea, floated around on our Agweek team. Now, it’s a concrete product airing every Sunday on multiple news channels across North Dakota.

We work closely with our counterparts on the AgweekTV team to bring timely, relevant coverage, some of it from the issue of Agweek that will appear in mailboxes the next morning.

I have learned a lot about broadcast news and I’ll keep learning more, as we continue our close relationship with the TV team and host Shawna Olson.

But my point is we’re throwing a party.

Stop by the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Feb. 18 between 6 and 9 p.m. to meet our team, learn about the show and have a beer or two on us.

And get my autograph.

A good news week

A lot of national and world news has affected ag this week.

China approved Syngenta’s Viptera GMO corn variety, known as MIR 162. That’s great news for farmers. China had been turning away corn shipments from the U.S., out of concerns the shipments were commingled with unapproved Viptera, which limited export opportunities and decreased revenues.

China is a crucial market for our corn crop. Or at least it was, before all this happened.

Hopefully, this approval will pave the way for settlements in the lawsuits brought against Syngenta by farmers and commodities traders like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. They say the rejections of shipments has pressured corn prices and hurt their profits.

Syngenta has said the lawsuits are baseless, but it seems obvious to me that profits suffer when a crucial export market is wiped away.

And the U.S. and Cuba have normalized diplomatic relations, easing restrictions on things like travel and trade.


That’s excellent news for ag. I was interested and a bit surprised, however, when I read reactions from the ag industry in the article Mikkel Pates wrote for Agweek (http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24655/). The industry is cautiously optimistic and one source in the commodities sector said he doesn’t think any financial restrictions will ease.

But Cuba is a large consumer of black beans and North Dakota ranks No. 1 in dry edible bean production at 8.7 million hundredweight, 988,000 in black beans alone. Minnesota is No. 4 in dry edible bean production, with 2.5 million hundredweight. If the restrictions are lifted, we would be competing with Michigan, which ranks No. 3.

Still, this should make equipment sales in Cuba far easier, and hopefully more agreements can be made to further simplify trade between our countries.

And now my dad can smoke Cuban cigars. Win-win.



A television debut

As most of you have probably heard, Agweek is launching a television show called Agweek TV. The TV crew will work hand-in-hand with the team here at the magazine, developing ag-related content relevant to our industry. The first episode will air on Jan. 11.

Today, I sat down for an on-camera interview with Agweek TV reporter Shawna Olson. It will be used in an upcoming segment about Agweek and its history in the industry.

And I learned something.

I am not graceful answering questions on camera.

Miraculously, I think there might be some footage she can use. Maybe a question or two I managed to answer without using nonwords like flupclib or kuskrumpf, or other combinations of three or four real words that all raced out of my mouth at once to form a mutant, indecipherable word glob.

Maybe there’s a question or two where I didn’t ramble on saying nothing, with no real response whatsoever because I had forgotten the question halfway through my nonanswer.

I might be exaggerating.

But my point is, I’m tremendously excited about this new project.

A small Christmas list item

I watched a video recently about a man raising a baby pygmy goat because its mother had twins and she couldn’t handle both. (You want to watch this: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152920109769626&pnref=story)

And I realized there’s an empty space in my life where a pygmy goat should be.

Benjamin, lovingly called Benji, is five weeks old. He feeds from a bottle six times per day, starting at 4 a.m. (With a lot more coffee in my life, I think I can fit that into my schedule.)

Benji has an overabundance of energy and needs plenty of room to perform the jumps, hops, sprints and somersaults he does best. (I see no reason I can’t turn my small apartment into a goat playground; I doubt the landlord or neighbors on the other side of the thin walls would mind.)

Benji will grow to the size of a Labrador in a few short months and then will need a pasture and a lot more room to lead a healthy life.

*Pensive pause*

I changed my mind. I can’t be a goat mom. I wouldn’t be able to teach him how to goat.

I’ll just watch the video again.




A year later

About this time last year, ranchers in South Dakota thought they were prepared for an early season snow storm that was on its way. But they soon found out they weren’t.

The storm dumped an unexpected amount of snow on livestock still in summer pastures, still wet from recent fall rains and still only insulated with summer coats.

That storm killed tens of thousands of livestock, mostly in South Dakota. Many ranchers didn’t know the extent of the damage to their herds for a few days because they couldn’t get to them on the ground. Those who were lucky enough to secure aerial views of their pastures came back to the ground with a sickening, real picture of what the next few years would entail in rebuilding their herds.

It was national news — pictures and video footage of cattle carcasses littering riverbeds, pastures and ravines.

Last year, Agweek profiled Richard Papousek, a Quinn, S.D., rancher who lost almost 300 head of cattle in the blizzard. The poignant cover photo of the Oct. 21, 2013, issue of Agweek showed a solemn Papousek with a ravine full of dead cattle in the background.

The storm impacted the agriculture industry far beyond its destructive borders.

The loss of livelihood helped shape disaster recovery programs in the federal farm bill. And the sheer devastation touched hearts of ranching families around the country, who donated money and animals to help in the recovery effort.

The Oct. 6 issue of Agweek will revisit Papousek and others affected by the storm to see how their recovery efforts are progressing a year later.

It’s an industry of resilient people, but the scars are still there.

Join us as we retell stories of survival and recovery. Pick up an Oct. 6 Agweek.

A full issue of Agweek

I just taped my promo video for the Sept. 29 issue of Agweek (I’m getting better at my on-camera presence, so watch out, Katie Couric). I’m happy to share that my script was unusually long this week, and that’s because we have a lot of news to share in the ag industry.

Most of it revolves around harvest, not surprisingly, and storage for the new crop that’s coming in. There’s no room for it in the bins, already overflowing with last year’s crop. So, as you might have guessed, the Sept. 29 issue of Agweek also has an emphasis on the rail delays plaguing the Upper Midwest and Canada.

The heat is on both Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific railways, but it’s been hotter recently for CP. It’s new “solution” to reduce late cars doesn’t seem to be a solution at all, as it shrinks the numbers on paper but does little to fill orders and really reduce the backlog. If you haven’t already heard, the “solution” is simply to ask elevators to cancel car orders.

Progress? Nope.

But the good news is farmers are finally getting some warm, dry weather, so the harvest is moving along and crops are looking good. I recently overheard a few local farmers saying their wheat, potato and sugar beet yields are the best they’ve seen in their careers. Promising, but the crops always vary from field to field.

Beyond harvest, storage and rail delays, we’ll have coverage of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Convention this week in Dickinson, advice on what to do with a wet corn crop, and an interview with the new executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association. (She’s a woman, so it might be time to change the name to Cattlepeople’s Association; perhaps we should put it to a vote.)

So check out the video at agweek.com.

It’s not the Today Show, but in my biased opinion, it’s not bad.

A soggy day at Big Iron

The first day of the Big Iron Farm Show was chilly and soggy. But, of course, that’s why the turnout was so good.

If farmers aren’t in their fields, they can go to shows like Big Iron, and the crowd was thick today at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds in West Fargo, N.D.

Walking around in wind and drizzle wasn’t so bad and I got to see the entire show, sprawled across the grounds. But I was particularly excited about the drone demonstrations scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. each day of the event. Today’s weather wasn’t conducive, though, so they didn’t fly the apparatus. It was disappointing, but I did get to hear a few representatives from different companies talk about their equipment and technologies. It would have been nice to see them in action. Hopefully they’ll have better weather tomorrow and Thursday.

If you’re at Big Iron this week, don’t forget to stop by the Agweek booth and say hello. Pick up a free copy of Agweek, enter your name in the drawing for a free shirt and sign up for a discounted subscription. Buy two years ($64), get the third free.

Oh, and they have candy. Lots of candy.

A big day for rail delays

Today, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board is in Fargo, N.D., for a scheduled hearing on rail delays.

Hosted by the state’s delegation and governor, hearings likes this don’t happen often and this is the first time one has ever been held in North Dakota.

The three-member board has a busy day ahead, with testimony scheduled from grain elevators, coal industry officials, state officials and statewide candidates, labor union officials and the railroad companies themselves. Beyond that, there will be comments as necessary from board members, the governor and the legislators present at the hearing.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple opened his speech by reading a letter from the Wilton (N.D.) Farmers Union Elevator, which Agweek featured in our Sept. 1 issue. The facility’s ordered cars are five months behind and it’s desperate for help, with bins bursting with grain from last year’s crop and farmers in need of storage for this year’s. In the letter, sent to state legislators, farm groups and the media on Aug. 25, the elevator’s board officials say they’re fighting for survival.

Agweek already has a short article on our website about the beginning of today’s hearing. Read it here: http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24014/. Agweek Staff Writer Mikkel Pates is at the meeting today and posted a blog about his anticipation: http://ag-at-large.areavoices.com/2014/09/04/anticipation-high-for-stb-hearing-in-fargo/.

I don’t know how long this hearing will last, or what the end result will be, but keep checking Agweek.com for updates. We’ll have another, more detailed story (and hopefully some news on changes moving forward to help farmers and elevators) this afternoon.

We’re on the scene for our readers and will bring updates as they’re available.

In the meantime, write to me about how the rail delays have affected you. Do you have a good idea for a solution that hasn’t been floated yet, or a tweak to an existing solution? Let me know: lgibson@agweek.com.



A crazy (fantastic) week

What a week.

Farm bill program news, beef plant funding news, sugar news, railroad shipment news, weather news. I’m more than ready to take the next three days to relax.

But I’d be lying if I said I don’t enjoy the excitement.

And I can’t wait for all the Agweek readers to crack open they’re print edition on Sept. 1. It’s packed.

On Monday, USDA Undersecretary Michael Scuse came to North Dakota to discuss farm bill programs with farmers and legislators. Of course, Agweek was there and heard Scuse agree with farmers that choosing between Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage will be difficult. To make it more complicated, those farmers are locked into their decisions for the five-year life of the farm bill.

It’s big news that he was here and, I’m sure, some assurance for farmers in our state that the big wigs on the national level are hearing their concerns.

And South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard is hiring an outside lawyer to review the funding distribution of money from EB-5, which had helped fund the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, S.D. This story is multi-faceted and includes calls for subpoenas of Daugaard, former Gov. Mike Rounds and others who might have played a role in how the funds were distributed.

Stay tuned for updates on this in the future. It’s interesting and the outcome will be important.

Then, on Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Commerce made a preliminary ruling that supports sugar growers, saying Mexico has been subsidizing sugar it’s exporting here. The Department of Commerce is immediately imposing duties on Mexican sugar in response. Permanent countervailing duties could be imposed, depending on the final decision of the Commerce Department, as well as the final decision of the International Trade Commission on injury to the U.S. sugar interests as a result of Mexico’s subsidizing and dumping. ITC made a preliminary ruling already that Mexico’s actions have injured U.S. interests.

Don’t worry, I’m not done yet.

On Wednesday, North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring inked a deal with the Port of Vancouver in Washington State to help move more grain by rail. When the Port of Vancouver sends shipments of fracking sand and other materials to Minot, N.D., those cars will be cleaned and then sent back full of North Dakota grain. That sounds helpful, but at least one shipper in North Dakota says that won’t help his business move grain. Another says it will help a few of his customers, but not all.

Then on Thursday, North Dakota’s legislators called out Canadian Pacific Railway for its subpar plan to reduce grain car backlogs. The thing is, the company isn’t reducing anything. It’s just asking elevators to cancel some of their rail car orders that are already months behind. So, the numbers go down, but not because the orders have been met.

Also Thursday, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that signup for the dairy Margin Protection Program, authorized in the 2014 farm bill, starts Sept. 2. It’s an important program for the dairy industry and it’s nice to see progress on its implementation.

USDA also released details this week on eligibility for the Supplemental Coverage Option, a crucial program for crops.

It’s finally Friday and today, the National Corn Growers Association announced that Fargo, N.D., has been selected to host the National Agricultural Genotyping Center. That’s exciting news and Fargo beat Decatur, Ill., in the final competition for the facility.

Ah, I love news.

And I love the lake. That’s where I’m headed. I hope you all have a wonderful Labor Day weekend.

A donated blog idea

In mining blog topic ideas from friends today, one mentioned the issue of family farms struggling to keep younger generations in ag. Some potential young farmers are choosing more lucrative careers in other industries, such as oil, over their multi-generational family operations.

I was impressed by his knowledgeable suggestion, and it loosely ties in with Agweek’s Aug. 4 cover story. The article explores the competition for labor between a Montana sugar beet company, a subsidiary of the Red River Valley’s American Crystal Sugar, and the Bakken oil companies. Workers are choosing to work in the oilfields instead of on farms, leading to short staffing during peak times of the sugar beet campaign. Employee recruitment has become a year-round endeavor.

Incentives, housing, exchange programs and switches to less labor-intensive irrigation systems are all coming into play as the sugar beet farmers search for solutions to their staffing problem.

It’s not quite family farming strife, but explores a side of the labor shortage around the oil boom.

Check out the Aug. 4 issue to learn more about it. It’s well worth a read.