The Planted Row: Weather the changes and stay on mission

Farm Forum

In my experience, the people of the Northern Plains are hardworking, practical and efficient, so there’s a decent chance you could already be planning your New Year’s celebration. That’s what I’ll be doing, at any rate. My father, sisters and nephews will be arriving at my house this weekend and staying through New Year’s Day. It’s the best gift I could ever hope to receive.

When congregating in groups, Southerners tend to be rather loud. This is especially true of my family, so there’s a decent chance you’ll know us if you happen to see us around town. If you do, feel free to come over and chat with us. We like to talk.

Since I’m bringing a small piece of the South to the frozen North this year, let me suggest a Southern tradition for your New Year’s Day gathering. Every year on this holiday, many Southern families consume collard greens and black-eyed peas seasoned with hog jowl. It’s supposed to bring good luck and prosperity for the new year. With corn and soybean prices still low, even silly superstitions like this one can be worth a try. At the very least, you’ll get a decent bite to eat. You can find a basic recipe for the peas and hog jowl at You can add other ingredients to this recipe to suit your own tastes. (I enjoy adding a little cayenne pepper.)


So all of this merrymaking and cooking means that 2014 is coming to a close. It has been an eventful year for agriculture. Here’s a look at some of what has happened.

• A new Farm Bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. This law adds a measure of certainty to farm planning. However, producers will have to choose which type of crop insurance program to use, so they have some tough choices in the new year.

• Large crops, a harsh winter, and (some claim) a high volume of oil moving on trains created a rail backlog this year that made it difficult for elevators and ethanol plants to move their products. Some cars were months behind schedule. This prompted hearings by the Surface Transportation Board, and rail companies have responded with a large infrastructure investment. The backlog of cars is dwindling, and this investment could help the industry handle larger crops in the future.

• Several years of large crops have contributed to a grain storage building boom and lower commodity prices. While there has been a slow recovery in the last month, corn and soybean farmers have faced lower prices all year. They’ll be looking at every possible avenue for reducing input costs next year. Meanwhile, the cattle industry has been enjoying long-awaited and much-deserved higher prices. Hopefully, this will allow producers to replenish the national beef herd that has dwindled so much in recent years.

• POET, LLC and Royal DSM teamed up to create POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels, LLC, a joint venture that began with North America’s first large-scale cellulosic ethanol plant that produces ethanol from corn crop residue. The plant, located in Emmetsburg, Iowa, went online this year and is adding value to the corn produced by Iowa farmers. If the plant is successful, more of them will likely appear across the Midwest.

All of these things are indicators of change on the horizon. If there’s one thing we know about agriculture, it’s that it never stays the same. Technology changes, weather changes, production techniques change, prices change, farm sizes change, and many scientists say the climate is changing. The only thing that remains the same is the mission of agriculture: Feed the people. Here’s hoping that your operation weathers the changes and stays on mission in the coming year.

From all of us at the Farm Forum, Happy New Year!