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In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker
In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

Upside Down Under: We’re not always No. 1…

Marvin Baker
 March 27, 2022

Lately I’ve been seeing indicators of how powerful North Dakota is as an agricultural producer. Statistics are generated by the USDA, Department of Agriculture and others but numerous people have been regurgitating said statistics on social media.

We’re No. 1! Following is a list of the crops in North Dakota that are considered No. 1 in the nation in production; beans, canola, flax, honey, oats, sunflower seeds, spring wheat and durum wheat.

North Dakota is No. 2 in the following crops: Lentils, peas, oil sunflowers and all wheat categories. We are 31st in winter wheat production.

We are also No. 3 in barley, sugar beets and total cropland. The list continues with bison and potatoes at No. 5, beef cows at No. 9, hay production and corn at No. 11 and wool at No. 15.

Other numbers that aren’t statistically ranked include 26,100 farms and ranches, 671,000 bee colonies, 1.83 million cattle, 51 farmers markets and 6,958 female primary producers.

It’s great that North Dakota is so diverse in this way, but there are numerous aspects of agriculture in which we are not even close to the top and dairy farming is one that jumps right out in the open.

Statistically, North Dakota has fluctuated in this respect, but the last time I checked, North Dakota was 34th out of 50 states in dairy production. In fact, Hawaii now has more dairy farms than North Dakota. At last count it was 80.

Just to give you an example of how dairy farming has changed in this state, in 1950 there were 49,200 dairy farms in North Dakota, according to USDA that included 357,000 cows. It leads one to believe that nearly every farm in the state at that time had dairy cows. By 2020 that number had dropped to 80 and 15,000 cows were counted.

When I was working as an ag reporter, I would periodically have a conversation with the ag commissioner about dairy farming. The last time we talked about it was when a family from Ontario moved to Parshall to take over a large dairy farm, moving back to Canada a month later.

Doug Goehring told me that his office had been in negotiations with dairies in South Dakota that might consider moving north. He admitted, however, the prospects weren’t very good.

In 2018, a new U.S. trade deal with Canada left Quebec’s dairy farmers fuming because it allowed more U.S. milk into Canada to be sold. Hundreds of dairy farmers in Quebec sold their farms at that time in protest of the new deal. Many of those decisions were also made because of stricter rules within the province of Quebec.

Had North Dakota negotiated with some of those French Canadian dairy farmers, some of them would have most likely taken the incentive to move to North Dakota and operate their dairies. That might have also brought some organic dairies to North Dakota because right now there aren’t any.

Hogs are another livestock that you see in the state but North Dakota ranks 25th in the nation in hog production with about 150,000 hogs, while bordering states Minnesota and South Dakota rank in the top 10. Iowa is the top hog producer.

North Dakota ranks No. 5 in the amount of organic farmland in the nation, but doesn’t even come close in the number of organic farms. USDA tells us that in 2020 there were 117 organic farms in North Dakota, which was dwarfed by more than 7,000 in California.

Despite being No. 1 in honey production, there is zero organic honey produced in the state. There are vast tracts of land that fall into the parameters for organic honey production, yet nobody takes advantage of that. Consumer demand keeps driving sales of organic honey and most of that is coming from Brazil.

Despite being No. 1 in canola production, there is zero organic canola in North Dakota. There was a spirited debate at the 2022 local foods conference about this and one organic farmer claimed there is no market for organic canola.

But there is! There are at least two organic grain elevators in the state, one of them is actually soliciting farmers for their grain right now.

And again, consumer demand is driving that train. Look on your supermarket shelves. There are numerous brand names of organic canola. Most of it comes from Brazil and would you believe Switzerland?

To be continued!


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