Senator John ThuneSouth Dakota wheat farmers, so far in 2008, have been blessed with one of the most abundant harvests ever, with bin-busting record winter and spring wheat yields being reported across all areas of the state in August. Adequate to surplus rainfall has fallen across much of South Dakota this spring and summer. Thanks to the expertise of South Dakota farmers and our state's fertile lands, rainfall, the ingredient most often missing to brew up a bumper crop, adequately watered South Dakota's wheat this year.
South Dakota's projected average yield for 2008 is expected to be 54 bushels per acre - a new record high. For every farmer I've visited with this month these high yields are even more appreciated because of skyrocketing production costs, including fertilizer, fuel and chemical expenses.
Now let's turn the clock back 110 years to the 1898 wheat crop. I recently read a newspaper article printed in The New York Times on July 13, 1898, and have to admit that I was surprised that many of the same cycles and trends we're experiencing in 2008 occurred back then. Let me share a few examples with you. The article starts out with, "The great wheat fields of this state are a source of wonderment and astonishment to the Northwestern farmer this year." This certainly applies to 2008 as it did in 1898.
Another example, as provided in the article, "The high price of wheat last fall prompted farmers to plant more extensively of wheat this year. But this was not the only reason. The Western farmer has learned to cultivate wheat at less expense." Many farmers shared with me that they planted 2008 crop-year wheat simply because wheat could be planted at much less expense per acre than corn.
According to the article, "Railroad companies are troubled over the demand that soon will be made upon them." Today, South Dakota's agriculture producers are still very much reliant on good rail access, and will greatly benefit from finalization of the Canadian Pacific Railroad's acquisition of the DM&E Railroad.
Another interesting comparison is that in 1898, ".while the rainfall has been exceptionally great, it appears to have been a benefit rather than a detriment, as the farmers predicted." This reminds me of the dire predictions for corn and soybean crops earlier this year due to excessive rainfall from eastern South Dakota all the way through the Corn Belt in Ohio. As of today, thanks to near perfect growing conditions, these same areas are expecting bountiful yields.
Finally, as one last comparison, the 1898 article provided that only six years earlier farmers in the state were "starving" and aid was sent to them from the East. The article went on to say, "But how different is their condition today. The farmers have become rich and prosperous."
Although most farmers may not have become "rich and prosperous" because of the 2008 wheat crop, I know how much they appreciate their better-than-average crop this year. However, although farmers are pleased with this year's crop, they are justifiably concerned about next year, not just because of potential uncertainty with weather, but because they are fully aware that the 2009 crop will likely set another record before it's even planted - a record high production cost per acre.
This is why I'm carefully watching and engaging with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it implements the 2008 Farm Bill. As a Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked very hard to make sure the farm bill included a permanent disaster program and other safety net components that will be available when Mother Nature takes a raincheck on providing favorable growing conditions.