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N.D. County Making Room for Hogs

May 20, 2003

CANDO, N.D. (AP) _ Hog farmers with huge, smelly operations don’t mind that a depressed agricultural economy is forcing farmers out of the region.

Producers say the declining population of Towner County in north-central North Dakota makes it easier to establish hog farms here _ since there are few people left to complain.

Cousins Bruce and Jim Gibbens say they are planning operations to run 2,000 feeder pigs each. The so-called sow barns, which handle up to 6,000 animals, require 35 full-time workers.

``It’s a good economic development opportunity for the whole area,″ said Bruce Gibbens, who grows mostly small grains on his farm, but also has some cattle.

Gibbens said his farm also can sell grain to feed mills that supply hog feed. And he can use the manure, pumped through pipelines, to enhance his farmland.

Other farmers are interested in large-scale hog farming in the area, said JoAnne Rodenbiker, president of the Towner County Economic Development Corp.

``We’ve had a number of other farmers in this area who have made trips to Manitoba to look at the facilities up there,″ Rodenbiker said. ``It’s not just Towner County. It’s the whole northern tier of counties that are looking into this.″

Maple Leaf Foods, a big pork processing facility in Manitoba, is seeking new producers, especially in the United States. Craig Jarolimek of Elite Swine Inc., the development arm of Maple Leaf Foods, has been recruiting potential growers in parts of North Dakota.

``The population, at least in this case, is an asset,″ he said of Towner County. ``The farms can locate a fair distance between neighbors and not affect the lifestyle.″

Producers can build their own facilities, receive management help from Elite Swine and sign contracts to sell the mature hogs to the company.

``There is some interest around here in getting back to animal production and processing, which we’ve gotten far away from in the last 25 years,″ said Carol Goodman of the Cavalier County Job Development Authority in Langdon.

``These facilities will bring jobs, bring spin-off jobs, bring activity and bring an opportunity for locally grown ag products to be used in a value-added way. We have to take a very open-minded look at this.″

Not everyone is excited about the development.

``Some people are always concerned about large-scale operations,″ Rodenbiker said. ``But, overall, the response has been good. They know economic development is needed. And this is an area where it makes sense.″

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MODESTO, Calif. (AP) _ Almond growers in California’s central valley are turning a bumper crop of nuts into a bumper crop of cash _ thanks to the hardball negotiating tactics of the Blue Diamond cooperative.

Last fall’s record harvest of 1.1 billion pounds of almonds did not bring the usual drop in prices, as is the case with most bumper crops. Instead, the crop is selling at 20 percent more per pound than the 2001 harvest, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Prices for California grapes have been hurt by an overabundant harvest and prices for other agricultural products, such as raisins and apricots, have suffered from competition from overseas farmers.

Almonds, meanwhile, have bucked the trend as growers have increased productivity and opened up new markets with ad campaigns promoting the wrinkled nut as a healthy snack. The efforts have boosted almond consumption in the United States by 57 percent since 1996, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state’s almond farmers have made such progress without federal subsidies in large part because of the bargaining clout of the Blue Diamond cooperative. About 4,000 of the state’s almond farmers bargain collectively for prices through the group.

Last May, Doug Youngdahl, chief executive of Blue Diamond in Modesto, succeeded in negotiating a price increase of 15 percent to 20 percent to $1.20 per pound by arguing that lower prices could force some growers out of the business, leading to higher prices in future years.

Youngdahl threatened that if buyers didn’t agree to pay more, he and others in California would hold almonds off the market.

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