A spring for the record books

Al Gustin

As I prepared a rough draft of a “Farm Byline” for the May issue of North Dakota Living, I wrote some observations about the very unusual, perhaps unprecedented, situation farmers faced as they made planting decisions for the coming year. I set that column aside, though, and instead decided to write about the 25th anniversary of the terrible winter of 1996-97, which culminated with an April blizzard that killed over 100,000 cattle, and my experiences covering that blizzard as a TV reporter.

As I noted at the end of that column, there was a potentially severe storm forecast for western North Dakota on April 12, and I wrote that we were “praying they won’t be talking about this storm on TV 25 years from now.”

As it turns out, they might be. There was not just one historic April blizzard this year, but a series of storms. The number of cattle that perished is still being tallied. For some producers, though, losses will be crippling – worse than 1997.

Meanwhile, those planting decisions had to be made at a time that can also be described as historic. In early March, I got a call from a TV newsman asking how to report on the sky-high wheat market. Surely, he thought, farmers would be planting more wheat. Would there be enough seed? Who should he talk to? I explained that even though wheat had hit $10 a bushel, prices of other crops were high, too, and there were many other considerations.

More recently, delayed planting here and elsewhere, and war in Ukraine, have only added to the upward pressure on crop prices. Some, in fact, have reached historic levels. But input costs have also been at previously unheard of levels, with diesel fuel well over $5 a gallon, and fertilizer and herbicide prices double or triple what they were a year ago. The shortage of equipment and parts has never been this bad. There’s even a shortage of barbed wire that cattlemen need to fix the fences that the blizzards ruined. Indeed, spring 2022 will be one for the record books.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.