Al Gustin's New Book Chronicles Ag Changes

Inside Dakota Ag

Al Gustin reflects on changes in North Dakota agriculture in his new book, "The Farm Byline." It's a good read and might make a good Christmas gift.

Published on: November 28, 2013

Al Gustin’s new book, “Farm Byline,” is a good read and it might be a good Christmas gift for someone on your list.

Gustin recently retired from a 45-year career as an ag journalist in North Dakota. The book is a collection of the columns he wrote for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives between 1974 and today.

The columns in the book I liked best were about his own life on the farm and the everyday life of North Dakota farmer and ranchers – calving in mud-covered coveralls, checking mink and muskrat traplines before dawn, mucking out stock trailers, naming cows, riding horses, watching sunrises and sunsets, praying for rain and praying for rain to stop.

Al Gustin reflect on changes he seen in his 45 year career as an ag journalist in North Dakota
Al Gustin reflect on changes he seen in his 45 year career as an ag journalist in North Dakota

You can see the change in agriculture through Gustin’s words. He chronicles weather and prices cycles ($2 wheat and $20 wheat), the times of great optimism (the 1970s) and time of widespread despair (the 1980s)

You can see farming and ranching practices change. Gustin writes of working his own patch of summer fallow back in 1992 when 6.6 million acres in North Dakota were “banked” to save moisture and control weeds. He also writes of no-till and cover crops at the turn of the century.

The change in ag transportation was perhaps one of the biggest over his career, Gustin writes. “As a teenager I hauled barley to town my dad’s ¾ ton pickup that held 80 bushels fully loaded.. [and] I have stood on top of a concrete grain silo at one of the first shuttle terminals built in North Dakota and watched a 110 car train being loaded.

There are nuggets of wisdom in some of his columns.

“A long-time implement dealer said … that experience has taught him that when times are good they will get worse; and when things are bad, they’ll get better. That’s something we should have thought of during the 1970s; and need to remember today,” Gustin wrote – in 1986.

Even though the changes in agriculture over the past 40 years contributed to rural population decline, Gustin doesn’t argue that the past was better than today, or that today’s agriculture is somehow not as good as his father’s agriculture.

“There are good things about both,” he writes. “Consider where we are …in 2013 farmers have their 60-foot air seeders ready to go, hooked up to their auto-steer tractors, ready to plant some GMO crops – stacked trait crops. They’ve got some confection sunflower contracted at $32 a hundredweight, and new crop corn priced at the ethanol plants – crops that they’ll deliver this fall in their own semi-trucks. They keep track of the markets with text messages on their smart phones. Some cattlemen, meanwhile, are putting electronic ID tags in the new calf crop, hoping to take advantage of premiums being offered for “source and age verified” calves – calves sired by DNA-tested bulls. Some of the heifer calves may be sent to Kazakhstan as bred heifers. It’s all very exciting – a great time to be in agriculture.”

You can find Gustin’s book at local bookstores and online at www.dakotabook.net.