Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Organic grain bonanza...

Posted 4/30/19 (Tue)

In recent months I’ve taken numerous calls and emails from people who want to purchase organic grain, oilseeds and legumes.

My business, North Star Farms, has a website in which we describe the organic vegetables we grow. Still, we get requests for large amounts of organic grain.

As an example, Cascadian Farms in Rockport, Wash., a familiar name promoting organic products, requested I sell them 20,000 bushels of organic spring wheat with 11 or 12 percent protein.

Upon checking with the latest national organic wheat market, food-grade, organic spring wheat is trading for $19.92 per bushel, vs. $4.82 per bushel for conventional, so 20,000 bushels would translate to $398,400 for organic and $96,400 for conventional.

On Monday, I received a call from Oregon. The caller asked if I might have 10 to 20 semi-loads of organic wheat or durum I could sell.

Twenty semi-loads of organic durum would bring in $327,800 for organic and $100,000 for conventional durum.

Less than a month ago, a call came in from Guelph, Ontario. They were looking for food-grade yellow or green peas.

Now this one I can kind of understand. We grow and sell shell peas and snap peas so I can see how this individual may have gotten mixed up or may have read the website too quickly.

However, the latest price for yellow peas was $17 a bushel and $17.50 a bushel for green peas.

OK, so let’s assume I had a load of these products for my friend in Guelph. Paying market price for organic green peas, he would need to write out a check for $17,000, or $17,500 for a truck load of green  peas. For conventional, it would be $4,750 for either grade.

I received an email from the company representing brands like Wolfgang Puck, Safeway, Full Circle and Muir Glen. They were looking for lentils, lots of them.

In fact, the email suggested they would be willing to pay up to $1 a pound for green lentils.

So let me get this straight – if I had organic green lentils, I could get $1 a pound and a truck load carries about 1,000 bushels and lentils weigh 60 pounds per bushel, that would indicate a payoff of $60,000. Conventional green lentils would fetch $12,300.

Soybeans, which have tanked since the trade war with China started, are quite a different story in the organic sector.

Another call from Ontario, this time from Waterloo, was offering $20.25 a bushel for organic soybeans. The test weight is 60 pounds and assuming you can get about 1,000 bushels in a truck load, it would pay out $20,250, whereas conventional soybeans would bring $7,960.

Some of the prices these brokers are willing to pay are outrageous, but then if we think about it, there’s such a demand for organic grains, oilseeds and legumes, that you can just about name any price you like.

It’s been 20 years since I met Milo Buchholz, a Barnes County farmer who was growing organic crops at Fingal, southeast of Valley City.

He appeared to be doing well financially and was happy with his operation with the only caveat that he had to get the grain to the mill.

There are approximately 196 organic farms in North Dakota with most of them concentrated in Kidder and Stutsman counties, with numerous others scattered across the state from Noonan to Wahpeton.

These people understand the pressure of demand and how it is directly affecting their bottom line. They are paying the same amount of money for equipment, fuel, labor and maintenance, yet are sometimes earning up to 400 percent more than their conventional brethren.

One might argue that organic yields are lower. That’s true, but zero out chemical cost and fertilizer cost, then figure a 10-20, even 30 percent lesser yield. Surely a 300-400 percent premium would easily offset a 70 to 80 percentile in yield.

From 2002 to 2009, organic sales increased in the United States by 16 percent annually. In 2009, it was a 5 percent increase because of recession, then jumped back to either 12 percent or 16 percent annually. Last year it tapered off to a 6.4 percent increase, giving the organic industry 17 consecutive years of growth.

This isn’t made up and it isn’t a promotion for the organic industry. It’s very real and because North Star Farms displays the NOP seal, we get these frequent requests. I just wish I had enough property to supply some of that demand.