Published April 3, 2022

Upside Down Under: We could be more diverse?…

Written by
Marvin Baker
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker
In the opinion of Marvin Baker
Marvin Baker

Last week’s article showed the diversity of North Dakota and that we fall into the No. 1 category in a number of areas, mostly with grain and row crops.

But, there are some areas in which we could do far better with our diversity. Let me give you some examples.

  • One of them is horseradish. This plant grows very well anywhere in North Dakota, including the wild and thrives in just about any kind of soil type. Yet there is no commercial horseradish production in the state.

Two counties; Madison an St. Claire in southern Illinois, produce more than 90 percent of the nation’s commercial horseradish supply. Approximately 1,500 acres of horseradish is grown there and is a $10 million industry for these two counties. If a fraction of that was grown here, it would lead to numerous financial opportunities.

  • Beef processing is severely lacking in the state. Talk to any meat processor in the state; beef, pork, venison, poultry. They will tell you they are so busy they can’t keep up or they are backlogged, some of them months out.

Some years ago, a beef packing plant opened in Harvey, closed, opened again and closed again. The original owners received some financial incentives from the state of North Dakota for start up. But it was unsuccessful. Yet, when you consider the existing processors, they are overwhelmed, and with more than 1 million cattle in the state, you’d think there would be more processors.

  • North Dakota is in the top 5 in the nation in the production of potatoes. Some will argue it’s No. 4, while others say it’s No. 6 or even No. 7. Regardless, it’s consistently in the top 10.

But do you see other root crops on a commercial scale? Other than sugar beets, you don’t. I’m talking about carrots, beets, rutabagas and onions. Like horseradish, these items grow well in North Dakota soils, however, there isn’t any commercial production. Why?

In 2004, a McKenzie County farmer was growing onions commercially with the assistance of the NDSU Research Extension Center in Williston. What happened to that onion production and why didn’t it expand?

  • I know a farmers’ market vendor who not only makes his living growing vegetables for customers in a large radius around Bismarck, but he’s always putting money into his operation to improve the efficiency as he gets older. Not only that, he takes a month-long trip to Florida every winter to relax.

This man has no other income. He earns his living selling vegetables. He created his own customer demand. He didn’t have a grain elevator to take his tomatoes so he built his own market and it’s working very well.

There could be so many more people earning their living this way because the consumer demand is definitely there and continues to increase. Attend a farmers’ market sometime and see it for yourself.

  • A friend stopped by to visit and told me that there is a company in Williston that is grinding up lignite coal and marketing it as a fertilizer. It has merit and is far less expensive than chemically produced fertilizers. That’s thinking outside the box, because rather than watching the prices of fertilizer continue to increase to a point where nobody can afford it, this offers an alternative. But apparently, it’s one of a kind. This could be a big deal in western North Dakota.
  • Several years ago there was a company based in Harvey that packed instant hot breakfast cereal made out of barley. I forgot what it was called, but somehow this company got a contract with the Department of Defense. How do I know this? I spent three weeks in an Army camp in Hohenfels, Germany and every morning in the dining facility, that cereal, from Harvey, N.D., was available. I wonder what happened to it? And, since barley is better for you than oats, why didn’t it get more traction?

Instead of sending all the grain to Minneapolis and Battle Creek, Mich., to be made into breakfast cereal, why can’t some of it be made here? It creates manufacturing jobs, it cuts way down on the cost of freight and people take pride in a local product.

All of these examples appear to be chicken and egg kind of scenarios. There are plenty of critics who will tell you there is no market, or it will never work. I would counter that, if some young entrepreneurs want to work in agriculture but don’t want to get dirt under their fingernails, they could create those markets and flourish in an ag career.

It happened with flax, it happened with sunflowers, durum and canola. Why not some of these other items? You have to start somewhere.

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