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2010 looks to be OK year for farmers

FARGO, N.D. -- Area farmers have a chance to make a few bucks in 2010, according to early budget projections by a North Dakota State University farm management specialist.

"It won't be a juggernaut year like '07 or '08, but there does project to be some return for (farmers') labor and management," Andy Swenson said.

Current crop prices are down sharply from 2007 and 2008, although that's partially offset by lower fertilizer prices, he said.

The projections -- meant to help farmers get a better handle on what to plant -- are just snapshots in time and reflect assumptions that may not hold true. For instance, the cost of fuel is estimated to rise 20 percent in 2010 from 2009.

Agriculture accounts for a quarter of the economic base in both North Dakota and Minnesota.

As things look now, North Dakota farmers across the state can plant crops showing potential profit, Swenson said.

The crops vary depending on where in the state a farmer operates.

Crops that fare well in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota aren't always feasible in central and western North Dakota, where less rain falls.

And not all crops grown in southern North Dakota and central Minnesota can be raised in the northern part of the two states, where the growing season is shorter.

In eastern North Dakota, potential profits for soybeans and dry edible beans, which include pinto and navy beans, are particularly promising, Swenson said.

Dry edible beans don't receive as much public attention as wheat, corn or soybeans. But North Dakota ranks first in dry bean production, with Minnesota ranking fourth.

"They've been good for a lot of farmers," Alan Juliuson, a Hope, N.D., producer, said of dry beans.

Lentils project to provide a good return in western and north-central North Dakota, Swenson said.

Farmers rotate crops on a field from one year to the next to combat crop disease and insects and to enhance soil fertility. That limits producers' flexibility in planting a crop due solely to projected profitability.

Ron Christensen, a Battle Lake farmer, said it it's difficult to predict what crops might be profitable in the new year.

"I just know profit margins are going to be tight" even if the weather cooperates, he said.

Jonathan Knutson is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.