Farm bill boosts more than farms
Auto dealer Dennis Lunde knows what butters his bread -- and the rest of Fargo-Moorhead's, too. "Agriculture is still the dominant industry in the Red River Valley. When farmers are doing well, it benefits the whole valley and me personal...
Auto dealer Dennis Lunde knows what butters his bread -- and the rest of Fargo-Moorhead's, too.
"Agriculture is still the dominant industry in the Red River Valley. When farmers are doing well, it benefits the whole valley and me personally," said Lunde, who has car dealerships in Fargo and Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Congress is expected to pass a new farm bill this week that will pump billions of dollars into the struggling farm economy -- and put tens of millions of dollars into the hands of area farmers.
More money in their hands means more vehicle and appliance sales. It means more customers for local restaurants, more money that can be invested with local brokers.
That's good news for local businesspeople such as Lisa Enger of the Homemaker's Villa appliance store in Moorhead and Jerry Chapweske, an Edward Jones financial representative in Fargo.
"When the farm economy is doing well, it helps our sales. It definitely helps," Enger said.
Chapweske said good times on the farm are good for his business, too.
"When there's optimism on the farm, my clients who farm are more likely to invest," he said
To be sure, agriculture is big business in this area.
Cass County led the state with agricultural sales of $169 million in 1997, the last year for which that figure is available, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Close on Cass' heels were Richland County at $166 million and Grand Forks County at $130 million.
To put those numbers in perspective, consider that Fargo and West Fargo issued total construction permits of about $155 million in 1997.
The bill Congress is expected to approve includes higher price guarantees. That's important because even a small boost in commodity prices means a lot of extra money in farmers' pockets.
Here's an example: In 2000, Cass County led North Dakota in spring wheat production, or wheat planted in the spring and harvested in late summer or early fall, with 13.3 million bushels. If the average per-bushel price had been just 10 cents higher, Cass County farmers -- and the area economy -- would have gained $1.3 million.
But while businesspeople such as Lunde, Enger and Chapweske recognize the economic importance of agriculture, many area residents don't, said Michael Swanson, farm economist with Wells Fargo & Co.
"Sometimes the numbers in agriculture don't seem that big," he said.
Take farm employment, for instance. Farms directly account for less than 3 percent of the metropolitan area's total work force.
But farmers spend heavily on such things as fuel, fertilizer and transportation, Swanson said, so many other jobs are tied to agriculture.
To Lunde, the issue is pretty simple. "When farmers are doing well, it's good for all of us," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530