Crop production changes in the Red River Valley

By Janet Kubat Willette

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — The last decade has brought changes to crop production in the Valley.

Shortly after scab infected Red River Valley wheat fields about 10 years ago, farmers started pushing more soybeans into the rotation, said Ron Dvergsten, dean of management education at Northland Community and Technical College. Wheat prices were in the low $3 range and with the increased cost of managing scab, returns just weren’t there. Farmers kept wheat in the rotation, because sugar beet growers like to plant beets following small grains.

Not only did more acres in the Valley migrate to soybeans, but also acres further north and acres that were rockier.


An awful lot of soybeans are raised all the way to the Canadian border, Dvergsten said, and they are doing quite well, yielding more than 30 bushels per acre.

Breeders have done a good job with breeding, improving the shorter-day varieties. Farmers have also done a good job of selecting varieties to suit their fields, be they fields with surface drainage issues or fields with high soil pH.

The net return for soybeans on cash rented land was $114 per acre in 2007 and the high return farms netted over $221 per acre. The high return farms in the Valley averaged more than 41 bushels per acre on 55 different fields. The entire Red River Valley had a 36 bushel per acre average.

The cost of chemicals may be another reason farmers are planting more soybeans. Chemicals are a major expenditure, especially on sugar beets and wheat, Dvergsten said. Chemical costs for wheat and sugar beets are two to three times the seed cost, he said.

With current commodity prices, farmers can make as much raising an acre of corn or an acre of soybeans as they can raising an acre of sugar beets, Dvergsten said. It’s also less work, particularly at harvest time.

The average farmer earned a net return per acre of $140 for corn on cash rented ground and $152 on owned land.

Producers who raised sugar beets on owned land averaged a net return per acre of $208. The high 20 percent had a net return per acre of $451.

Producers who raised sugar beets on owned land with joint ventures on the shares averaged a net return per acre of $2.49. The average producer who raised sugar beets on cash rented land with a joint venture lost $21 per acre.

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