The Sherven family farms near Ryder, which is south of Minot. Pictured here, from left, is Ella, Trent, LyNelle, Isaac and Alivia. They grow barley, spring wheat, winter wheat, durum, canola, sunflowers, soybeans and flax. Picture by Sara Lee Photography.

 

Trent Sherven remains positive this year’s crop can take advantage of the nutrients that remain in the soil after last year’s harvest had comparably lower yields because of the drought.

The fourth-generation farmer from Ryder — which is south of Minot — has a diversified operation, growing barley, spring and winter wheat, canola, sunflowers, soybeans, flax and durum. He said with fertilizer being more expensive and some of last year’s nutrients still in the ground, there’s an opportunity to save some money.

“We should be able to cut rates (of application) and not necessarily affect yield as long as we get more moisture,” Sherven said. “In my area, we were one of the hardest hit by drought. If we’re able to cut fertilizer rates significantly, that’ll help offset costs.”

Farmers are headed into spring’s work in which the sunny optimism from strong commodity prices has been clouded by high input costs. Sherven said farmers who purchased fertilizer last year — when it was less expensive — are in better shape, since the price has increased this year. The Russia-Ukraine war has severely disrupted the supply chain for fertilizer.

“That’s the wild card — how long is that gonna go?” he said. “I think the high commodity prices will be there because Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of wheat, sunflowers and corn to the world. The rest of the world has to get it from some other country. But along with that, they also supply fertilizer, so that hurts inputs. There’s gonna be a long tail on this.”

That includes herbicides, and Sherven said farmers may have to consider multiple varieties to take advantage of generic brands, as the most popular herbicides could be hard to get.

“Maybe more concerning is supply, because it’s never really something we’ve had to worry about,” he said. “We should be able to get by, but you may have to diversify within your crop by putting different varieties in.”

Sherven added that he works with a cooperative — Dakota Agronomy Partners — in Minot to ensure he has an adequate plan that takes into account the supply chain disruptions and the needs of his crop.

“I work closely with one of their agronomists to have as seamless a planting season as possible,” he said. “Even with current disruptions in the world, they give me a lot of confidence in my cropping plans.”

Sherven said he had hopes of an early start — which for him is the first or second week of April — but acknowledged the recent snowstorm brought much needed moisture, even if it delays spring’s work.

“If the wind blows and it shoves the snow into the trees, we could still be going by the end of (April),” he said.

Down in Ransom County, Dan Spiekermeier farms near Sheldon. Lack of moisture has not been a problem for him, as is the case for many in eastern North Dakota. He is, however, worried about a colder spring.

“It’s been so cold,” he said. “The soil temps — it’s gonna take a lot for them to warm up. I’m concerned about a late start to the planting season. If highs stay in the 30s and 40s, (the soil is not) gonna warm up fast at all.”

Spiekermeier said his yields were good last fall, meaning his crop took advantage of the fertilizer that was put in the ground.

“We had the higher production, so it used up more,” he said. “We’ll have to put on the normal amount of fertilizer.”

Spiekermeier said he’s also watching parts shortages, with the supply chain still disrupted from the pandemic.

“That could be another thing that’s hard to get ahold of,” he said.

— Chris Aarhus, NDFU Editor