Corn may overtake wheat in the heartland
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By BLAKE NICHOLSON
Associated Press Writer
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Corn is taking over wheat acres in much of the nation’s heartland.
North Dakota farmers are expected to produce more bushels of corn than spring wheat for the second straight year, and for only the second time in state history. Kansas farmers also could harvest more corn than wheat, the federal Agriculture Department says.
USDA has projected the state’s corn-for-grain crop at 269 million bushels, down 1 percent from last year’s record high. Last month, USDA pegged the state’s spring wheat crop at 224 million bushels, down 4 percent from a year ago.
Before last year, corn bushels had never surpassed spring wheat in North Dakota, according to USDA data. This year, the estimated corn production would outpace both spring wheat and durum wheat bushels. The durum wheat crop, which is used for pasta, is pegged at just over 41 million bushels.
"I believe this is a trend that’s going to continue in corn’s favor," said Larimore farmer Jay Nissen, president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. "I think producers are seeing the financial viability of corn versus other crops, especially young producers."
Corn production has increased tenfold in North Dakota in the past 20 years, but no one believes corn will supplant spring wheat as North Dakota’s staple crop. North Dakota leads the nation in spring wheat production every year, and farmers plant nearly three times as many wheat acres as corn.
There are other factors to consider, as well. A bushel of corn weighs about 4 pounds less than a bushel of wheat. And the value of the spring wheat crop is hundreds of millions of dollars more than that of the state’s corn crop.
But even wheat farmers agree that corn is becoming a mainstay of eastern North Dakota agriculture as worldwide demand for the crop grows, pushed in part by the ethanol industry.
"In the eastern part of the state, corn is probably going to become even more of a thing," said Jim Burbidge, who farms near the north central town of Mohall.
Still, he said that in North Dakota, wheat will always be king. "That’s our specialty," he said. "And the weather is going to be key to corn production."
Nissen agreed, saying the crop in the field has the potential to meet the USDA numbers but that in many areas, farmers need a late growing season to get the crop in.
"We need to go past the average killing frost dates," particularly in the northeast, he said.
But right now, Nissen said, "it’s the best crop we ever had."
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s congressional delegation has sent a letter asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expedite approval of the state’s application for split-state status for bovine tuberculosis.
The USDA decided last week to end New Mexico’s status as a bovine tuberculosis-free state because two infected herds had been found in New Mexico’s accredited free-zone and the state no longer met federal requirements.
The delegation said the USDA decision was excessive and could cost ranching and dairy operations unnecessary tests. Split-state status, they say, would cover the small areas where the infected herds were found while the rest of the state would be a TB-free zone.
U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, along with Reps. Heather Wilson, Tom Udall and Steve Pearce sent their letter to Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer on Monday.
"The downgrade of New Mexico’s status is estimated to cost our producers more than $4 million per year and could actually impede efforts to eliminate bovine TB as resources are shifted over to operations that pose little or no risk," the letter states.