Ben Vig farms near Sharon, N.D.

 

The old saying, “Hope springs eternal” by Alexander Pope rings mostly true for farmers when planting season comes around.

The coronavirus pandemic may have slowed the process a bit at times, but farmers continue to get back to work, planting their 2020 crop. However, something else is weighing heavily on their minds.

Ben Vig, who farms on the eastern side of the state near Sharon, said commodity prices aren’t making him very eager to be out in the field.

“It’s nice to be busy and get out in the field and stay busy, but a person can only be so enthusiastic,” Vig said. “I don’t know if there’s much optimism with the markets. It’d be nice if the markets were another dollar high. To do all of this for $2 corn or $4 wheat or $7 soybeans – it’s hard to be enthusiastic.”

At CHS SunPrairie Grain in Minot, the cash price on May 5 for corn was $2.27, while soybeans were $7.25 and spring wheat was $4.45. Tyler Stafslien of Ryder, which is south of Minot, said it’s hard to get excited when there’s a chance of losing money.

“I’ve always thought it was fun to get in a tractor and do this – put the crop in the ground and possibly make money in the fall,” Stafslien said. “This year, you’re more pessimistic about there being any extra money, and there’s a good chance you could lose money. It’s difficult staying motivated.”

Keith Smith, who farms near Maddock, said the prices definitely detract from the optimism farmers typically feel.

“When you see prices like that on the board, you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this again?’” Smith joked. “It’s hard to get excited.”

Still, all three farmers were in the field or at least preparing to seed. As of May 5, Vig was still dealing with frost and water issues.

“This is the worst frost we’ve seen in over five years” he said. “We’ve had nice weather. But you drive across the yard and the pickup sinks in 6 inches. Water should be running down the yard. Tough conditions for it to thaw.”

At the same time, Smith hadn’t started planting yet, but was dropping fertilizer.

“Some fields are good to go across, while the next one is soupy and wet, and you almost get stuck,” he said.

Stafslien wasn’t dealing with those issues, though. By early May, he had one-third of his crop in, citing good conditions.

“It’s as early as we’ve ever gotten it in (to this point),” he said. “I was concerned coming into this spring, but we really didn’t get any significant snowfall.”

The pandemic has all three farmers being careful about contact, but none of the three said it really hindered them in any way in terms of putting in a crop.

“I haven’t been anywhere where there’s a crowd of people, but I can put gloves on and my wife Megan has sowed cloth masks,” Vig said.

Stafslien said he tries to take caution with parts stores and other businesses he needs to frequent for the farm.

“A lot of times, I’ll call ahead and have them set what I need outside and take it that way,” he said.

Smith said he’s been lucky to be able to have some parts shipped to his home, like when he was combining his leftover corn earlier this spring and needed something specific.

“I do some business in Jamestown, and they can ship it to me,” Smith said.

Though farmers have still been able to plant this spring, Stafslien said time in the tractor has made him think about those who cannot do their work.

“I definitely consider myself lucky compared to many across this country, like people working in restaurants and bars in bigger cities,” Stafslien said. “I’m a farmer, and I can do my occupation. I feel very blessed.”

— Chris Aarhus, NDFU Editor