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Corn outpaces wheat in North Dakota

By Dave Kolpack

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. — The state corn growers association has outgrown its headquarters, thanks in part to a record year that pushed corn ahead of spring wheat as the state’s No. 1 harvested crop, organization officials said.

Tom Lilja, director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, said Wednesday it may be difficult for history to repeat itself, now that the price of wheat has topped $10 a bushel.

"Wheat has fired the first shot on who’s going to plant what next year by running to ten bucks," he said at an open house for the association’s new building in south Fargo. "Whether the corn or the soybean commodities decide to shoot higher to offset the first shot in that bidding war — I think that’s going to be the key."

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Lilja, who grew up on a dairy farm near Larimore, said he never expected wheat to fall from the No. 1 spot in North Dakota. The state’s corn harvest is expected to wind up at about 279 million bushels, compared to about 238 million bushels for hard red spring wheat.

"It’s a culture shock. There’s no question about it," he said.

Kevin Skunes, a farmer in Arthur and a member of the corn growers board, said he doesn’t expect a repeat performance for corn, even though its yields are better than wheat.

"Wheat’s easier to raise," Skunes said. "And with these prices, there is going to be more of it next year."

The amount of corn planted in North Dakota increased by about 800,000 acres from 2006 to 2007, helped by a growing demand for ethanol, a corn-based fuel. Lilja said he would not be surprised if up to 200,000 acres are turned back to wheat in 2008.

"The key thing to remember, though, is that corn has always been the most valuable cash crop in the United States," he said. "The old saying that corn is king is certainly true. It just so happens that we’re getting better genetics from northern hybrids."

Even with the record year, Lilja said North Dakota should rank about 15th or 16th in the nation in corn production.

"It’s the three I’s: Iowa, Illinois and Indiana," Lilja said. "Those are the big ones."

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Lilja, 37, was a grain market trader before joining the corn growers.

"It was pretty stressful," he said. "I basically saw the opportunity with corn acres increasing in the state. Just thought it would be a pretty good time to jump on board."

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