Minor crops competitive with wheat in 2012

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Projected crop budgets show that minor crops, such as safflower, buckwheat, mustard, rye and millet, which typically only have between 10,000 to 30,000 seeded acres for each crop in North Dakota, will be more competitive in 2012.

"It has been a challenge for buyers of minor crops to 'bid for acres' when prices for major crops, such as wheat, corn and soybeans, have been at historically high levels during the past five years," says Andy Swenson, North Dakota State University Extension Service farm management specialist. "However, projected prices indicate that minor crops have collectively taken a deep breath, cinched up their belts and decided to fight for acres."

The price of buckwheat is up more than 20 percent, while mustard, safflower and chickpea prices increased more than 50 percent. Rye and millet prices are about two-thirds higher than the previous year's price projections.

Safflowers are projected to bring labor and management returns of $87 per acre in the northwestern and southwestern regions of the state. Returns per acre average $120 for mustard, $67 for rye, $62 for buckwheat and $24 for millet across several regions. Except for millet, all are competitive with spring wheat, which projects a return to labor and management ranging from $10 to $60 per acre, depending on the region.

"The price of small-market crops is volatile because it is easy for swings in acreage and yields to cause a supply and demand mismatch," Swenson says. "Therefore, a producer should contract with buyers to establish a price before planting. It is important for a grower to know and be comfortable with the details and the issuer of the contract. There should be an understanding of contingencies, such as what happens at different grades of quality or if there is a yield shortfall."

Contracts can alleviate price risk, but regular crop insurance policies may not be available for some minor crops because of a lack of actuarial data to develop those policies. Also, because of the small acreages involved, chemical companies typically have not provided minor crops the arsenal of pesticides that are available for major crops.

In summary, there may be more situations in 2012 than in the past where minor crops present an opportunity to increase farm profit. However, producers should be aware of the production and marketing considerations that may cause some risk.

"The breadth of viable cropping alternatives and the willingness of producers to be flexible in what they grow makes North Dakota unique," Swenson says. "North Dakota has the distinction of leading the U.S. in the production of 11 different crops. This list does not include corn, soybeans or several minor crops that are grown in the state."

Projected crop budgets are available at
http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ecguides.html. A program to compare crops by returns versus variable crops is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/farmmanagement/tools.

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