Snowstorms, commerce, Bill Gates and war: Looking back at agriculture in 2022 – Agweek

Heading into spring 2022, things are looking dull. Really dry.

Drought has dominated the headlines across much of the northern Plains in 2021 and looks set to return in 2022.

But a series of storms in April brought rain and snow to some areas – some both – and at least lifted much of the region out of the worst of the dry conditions.

A herd of black calves waits to be bottle-fed inside a building at Meyer Ranch near New Salem, North Dakota, during a Hailey snowstorm on or about April 14, 2022.

A calf was taken from its mother outdoors during Snowstorm Haley, April 12-14, 2022. Meyer Ranch in New Salem, North Dakota, will lose more than 30 calves to the storm, but will bottle feed as many as 43 calves in barns and pens. It is a challenge to feed the calves twice a day, or at least once when it is most difficult. Photo taken on April 14, 2022 in New Salem, North Dakota.

Courtesy/Meyer Ranch

Of course, the storm isn’t in everyone’s favor. While rain and heavy, wet snow often help pastures grow and add moisture to the ground before planting, they also lead to massive livestock deaths, as well as stress and disease.

After spring, the story across the region turned to drought again. As of Dec. 15, the US Drought Monitor reported that North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska are in drought conditions, as are large parts of Minnesota, Montana and Iowa.

Huge snowstorms — the result of the “Colorado trough,” like the April storms — swept through much of the region again in November and December. But the onset of winter snow doesn’t allay concerns: Meteorologists typically explain that winter snowfall does little to alleviate drought because most of the water is lost as it melts.

Tractor in the wheat field

Aerial view shows a tractor fertilizing a wheat field near the village of Yakovlivka, Ukraine, April 5, 2022, after being bombed from the air outside Kharkov.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 2. 23. Continue to shake up the farming world. Both countries are major players in commodities, including corn, wheat and sunflower oil, and Russia is a major supplier of fertilizers.

Throughout the year, the market is at any given time influenced by news of what is happening in Ukraine and Russia—whether farmers can plant or harvest, whether shipments are allowed or even possibly via the Black Sea, whether hostilities are increasing or slowing down.

There seems to be no end in sight to the hostilities in Ukraine, and markets will continue to keep a close eye on what is happening there. Farmers and ranchers will continue to deal with waves of conflict-related market volatility.

Bill Gates owns land in North Dakota


Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates speaks to the media in front of his chicken coop on the 68th floor of 4 World Trade Center in New York City.

Mike Segar/Reuters file photo

In June, Agweek was first to report that an entity linked to Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Bill Gates appeared to have quietly struck a deal with the owner to buy some 2,100 acres of farmland in the northern Red River Valley of North Dakota November 2021 , a potato growing group based in Grafton, North Dakota, Campbell Farms.

This development shouldn’t surprise anyone. Bill Gates and his ex-wife Melinda have invested in farmland across the country and are considered to be among the largest, if not largest, owners of farmland in the United States through entities affiliated with them. They may have or have owned more land in the region than we know.

The story also raises questions about how North Dakota’s anti-corporate farm law is enforced — or whether it is actually enforced. The North Dakota attorney general’s office said the sale appeared to be legal, but questions remained.

Fufeng wants to build wet corn milling plant in Grand Forks

092122 Fufeng.jpg

The Fufeng USA logo hangs on the front of a bulldozer at the site of a corn wet mill and bio-fermentation products manufacturer in the north end of Glen Forks on Tuesday, Sept. 22. 20th, 2022.

Eric Hylden/Grand Fox Herald

When the American branch of a Chinese company – Fufeng Group Co., Ltd. — Obtaining a permit from the Grand Forks City Commission in February to build a corn wet mill in the northeastern North Dakota city has sparked divisions over land use, national security and environmental issues.

Fufeng’s record of environmental problems in China has alarmed some residents near the planned factory, while others see opportunities in agriculture and the Grand Forks economy. City residents tried to bring the matter to a vote but were refused.

National security concerns continue to linger. Members of Congress from North Dakota and elsewhere opposed construction of the plant, which they argued was too close to Grand Forks Air Force Base. In December, CFIUS declared it had no jurisdiction over the case, seemingly putting the plant back on track.

Yet many still object, even far beyond Grand Forks. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem recently proposed legislation in her state to limit foreign purchases of South Dakota agricultural land.

plans to grow soybeans in the area

soybean crush plant drawings

A rendering of the planned North Dakota soybean processing plant in Casselton, North Dakota.

Courtesy/North Dakota Soybean Processors

Soybeans have long been a staple crop in the upper Midwest. For years, the vast majority of the region’s soybeans have been shipped to Asian markets via the Pacific Northwest.

That could soon change as construction and planning for some soybean plants in the region accelerates in 2022.

In addition to existing plants in the region, the following plants are in various stages of planning and construction:

  • In Spiritwood, North Dakota, Archer Daniels Midland is working with Marathon Petroleum to convert a former Cargill malting plant into North Dakota’s first dedicated soybean processing facility. The plant is expected to bid for the 2023 crop.
  • North Dakota Soybean Processors, a partnership between Minnesota Soybean Processors and Louisiana-based Consolidated Grain and Barge (CGB), has broken ground on a plant in Casselton, North Dakota.
  • Work is underway at Shell Rock’s Shell Rock Soy Processing, and Alta’s Platinum Crush is expected to be operational in 2024.
  • CHS has increased capacity at its crushing plant in Fairmont, Minnesota, and plans to upgrade its plant in Mankato, Minnesota.
  • South Dakota Soybean Processors announced in February plans to build a multi-seed processing plant near Mitchell that will be operational by 2025. It will be able to process soybeans and sunflowers.
  • Epitome Energy recently announced plans to build a soybean crushing plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota. It was previously planned to be built in Crookston, Minnesota.

Midwest Carbon Express seeks to reduce ethanol’s carbon score

A placard at the entrance to the farm yard reads "stop the risky carbon pipeline," A four-wheeler passed by.

Kevin and Mark Lapka of Leola, South Dakota, display a placard stating their opposition to the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions pipeline to bring carbon dioxide from ethanol plants to rural South Dakota, Minnesota and North Dakota , including the town of Leola, South Dakota, or McPherson County, about 40 miles north and west of Aberdeen, South Dakota, about 450 people. Photo taken on August 18, 2022.

Mikkel Pie / Agweek

Summit Carbon Solutions, a division of Summit Agriculture Group, announced plans for the Midwest Carbon Express project in late 2021, with the goal of transporting 12 million tons of carbon dioxide collected annually from ethanol plants across the region to western North Dakota, where Can be stored underground. This will be the largest carbon capture project in the world.

The plan has faced resistance throughout 2022 from landowners concerned about what the pipeline might mean for their land. Some local governments have even looked at ordinances and charges designed to discourage construction in their areas.

Despite the attention, the Midwest Carbon Express isn’t the only carbon capture pipeline planned for the region. Navigator is developing the Heartland Greenway to provide ethanol producers in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois, among other industries, a way to reduce their carbon footprint by taking advantage of federal regulations that encourage the capture and storage of greenhouse gases tax credit. At least some of the carbon captured from the ethanol plant will be stored underground in Illinois.

Crop year ends fairly optimistically

    A ripe sunflower head in a field.

Sunflowers have a bumper harvest in 2022, which is a dry growing season. Photos taken on October 18, 2022.

Ann Bailey/Agweek

Despite a late planting in the cold, wet spring, the region’s crops are doing surprisingly well in 2022. Some areas could have used more water during the growing season, but given the conditions, agronomists and farmers were pleasantly surprised by the yields.

Some specialty crops performed particularly well, including canola, dry food beans and sunflowers. Sugar beet cooperatives rate their crops as generally average. Yields of corn and soybeans vary from place to place, mainly depending on when plantings are planted and the timing of rainfall.

With supplies remaining tight for many crops, prices remain high enough for farmers to profit even as inputs drive up production costs.

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