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Grains Conference draws 750 small grain producers

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 01/07/2013 2:00 PM

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — While attendance at the Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks remained comparable to last year's event, the number of wheat acres those 750 small grain producers will plant in the spring is expected to be down.

Corn is replacing those acres in northwest Minnesota, said Dave Torgerson, Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers executive director.

Through an increase in the wheat checkoff, plant breeders in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota have been working on varieties for increased disease resistance and quality. However, fewer wheat acres also means less checkoff dollars to fund research. The situation creates concerns about continued wheat production research.

While wheat is $2 above the corn price, corn yields prompt farmers to plant it instead, he said.

"But maybe this year the market will realize the economics of the crop and bring a premium to spring wheat," he said. "That could bring wheat back."

Wheat wasn't the only commodity featured during the two-day conference sessions. Barley and soybeans were also highlighted at the event.

Session topics ranged from varietal trial results, marketing, producer-led fertilizer management strategies and global energy needs.

"Everything we put together for the conference is based on what farmers can bring back to their operation that will bring them more profit," Torgerson said. "We try to look at long-term trends."

Jay Debertin, an executive vice president of CHS, talked about global energy and the fertilizer supply and demand at one session.

""This really is a wonderful window we are in with the link between ag and energy," he said.

Ethanol has played an important role in renewable fuels, he said. Debertin noted that cellulosic energy has been slow to develop.

The United States is using less gasoline and is producing more crude oil. While once an importer of oil, the country is now exporting it due, in part, to increased oil development. Technology has played an important role in development methods, like fracking.

While the United States is using less, countries like China continue to use more.

Debertin discussed U.S. oil pipelines that are being proposed to move oil from the north to southern refineries.

He pointed to the renewable fuel standard. Minnesota has had a long history in renewable fuel development, he said. North Dakota has also been building its renewable energy industry.

The region has also seen more fertilizer plants being built, he said. There is the possibility of one being built in Spiritwood, N.D., that would produce over 100 tons of fertilizer daily.

Conference topics were on marketing the 2012 and 2013 crop, improving fuel and engine performance under the emission standards, and wetland banking for wetland mitigation projects.

Small grain update meetings that will take place throughout the state early next year will focus on varietal research and production information.