New Book “Unwanted Bread” Offers“Unplugged” View of ND Farm Landscape
By Tracy Sayler
As future farm policy is debated, lawmakers looking for testimonials on the joys, challenges, and trends of farming today might want to pick up “Unwanted Bread,” a new book published by the Institute
for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University.
The 160-page, richly photographed book offers a slice of life from 50 diverse perspectives across North Dakota, from producers of various farm commodities to producers who have gotten out of farming. Among
the profiles: A diversified Hutterite, beekeeper, conservationists, a veterinarian, a cowboy poet, plant breeder, auctioneer, implement dealer, migrant workers, and clergy. Frank and Deborah Popper, the East Coast
professors who advanced the “Buffalo Commons” theory, are profiled too. Former ND Governors George Sinner and Ed Schafer offer their perspectives as well.
In their own words, producers talk of riding a roller coaster that never stops; about getting out, staying in, getting bigger or diversifying, in a highly personal look at the condition of agriculture that
applies not only to North Dakota, but all Plains states.
“Unwanted Bread” is written by Sheldon Green and James Coomber, both of Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. The book gets its title from a farm couple near Fargo, ND, who feed their sheep stale bread given
to them free by local grocery stores—an absurd irony, given today’s wheat prices.
Look for the book in your local bookstore, or ask for it at your public library. More information about the book may also be found online at: www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndirs.
Click on the link “publishing,” then “marketing.” Or, contact Cathy Heiraas at the Institute, ph. 701-231-8338.
Excerpts from three grain-related profiles in “Unwanted Bread”
Printed with author permission. Photos by Sheldon Green.
Sonia Meehl, general
manager of Crete Grain, Crete, ND, a family owned, 1.2 billion-bushel capacity elevator: “Sometimes I think farm wives should do the farm marketing. They would be very effective marketers. Wives are
often more astute about money. They like to get the bills paid. Farmers often get very attached to their grain and hold on to it much longer than they should. But some
producers are starting to get over their attitudes. They have to. I mean, why raise the stuff if you’re not going to sell it? Producers need to
remember that once they put their grain into a bin or an elevator, they are no longer in the production business; they are in the storage business. Most
producers, it seems, work for their grain bins instead of figuring out a way to make that bin work for them…”
“The whole point is, as producers and agricultural business people, we need to be flexible and do what the market wants, what the customer wants—even though that may not be what we want to do. A lot of
producers don’t bother to think, ‘Who is my customer? Why am I doing this?’ If a producer goes into the local implement dealer to buy a tractor,
he’s the customer. The same goes for when a farmer buys fertilizer, seed or chemicals. He’s the customer, the end user. But when a producer comes to
the country elevator, he needs to change his thinking from being a customer to asking, “Who is my customer?’ If producers deliver corn here, for
instance, their customer is the Pacific Northwest exporter who ultimately ships their corn to Japan or Korea or somewhere in Asia. That’s the real customer.”
Dennis Kubischta, who farms 1,900 acres near Hope, ND and mills his
own wheat into flour that he sells commercially: “Since I’ve been milling my own grain, I’ve kept some of the money that would have gone to the middle men. If I could
do it on a larger scale, I could do even better. I started ten or twelve years ago when I got into sheep. I knew I needed to diversify; I was farming only
grain. I was growing forage and feed grains already, so I thought I could better utilize our resources with sheep. I bought a cleaning mill at the same
time so I could clean grain and feed the screenings to the sheep. That’s the way I started value-adding our grain.”
“A short while later I found a flour mill for sale. It was everything you need to make whole wheat flour. I got a loan to buy the equipment and started
milling to the standards of the State Health Department. Today I deliver flour from the farm to Quality Bakery & Hornbacher’s baker.
John & Chris Skogen
John and Chris Skogen are optimistic young farmers from Epping, ND. Recent graduates of Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, the brothers will use their degrees in business and
education to teach during the winter and farm in summer until they can take over the family farm full time.
“We don’t think about bad prices. You just do what you can. You’re definitely not going to make any money if you don’t put anything in the
ground. Prices have been low and they’ve come back up again. It runs in a cycle. There are ups and downs but you have to look at the averages.
Farming is riding it out. You just have to plan and ride it out.
“We raise wheat and durum. It’s worked out in the past and it’s put us where we are today. These crops are really optimal for our area. They
grow well and we know that they work. Other guys are trying different crops, but down the road there should always be a need for wheat and durum.
We’re interested in farming because it’s what we know, we like the lifestyle, and we’re optimistic we can make it work. It’s tough to get into any
business with a pessimistic tone. If you’re pessimistic about it, chances are you’re not going to make it. Our farm raised us, it raised our dad and
grandfather and great-grandfather. We’ve come from a good situation that’s provided well for us. We have good ideas and we know if we use everything we’ll make it work.”
Perspectives from the Authors of “Unwanted Bread”
“…The fundamental problem remains unsolved – American farmers
are able to grow more food than other rich countries are willing to buy or poor countries can afford. There are no villains in this new reality.
It is only change brought on by better technology that allows us to produce so much.” – Sheldon Green
“Farming will never be the same as it used to be, but there is little reason to imagine North Dakota as a vast, empty grazing land in our
lifetimes. Such factors as a growing world population, strengthening economies in Asia and the Third World, and increased incomes of consumers in grain-importing countries might gradually increase
prices for wheat and meat. A report produced by the Department of Agricultural Economics at NDSU predicts that Asia will import 18% more wheat in the decade 1999 to 2009. Wheat exported by the U.S.
could increase from 25 million metric tons to 35 million metric tons. These predictions are similar to expectations by the USDA, which suggests significant increases for wheat, soybeans, corn and barley.
Such reports offer hope for people who are willing to treat farming as a business and run their operations according to the demands of today’s global markets.” – James Coomber