Currently viewing the category: "South Dakota"

Well, the northern plains remain what is probably the best area of the country as far as unemployment being a problem is concerned.

Of course when I say that North Dakota remains the best as far as a low unemployment rate. Mostly that is because of the continuing oil expansion. It also has been because a great agricultural period that is now starting to slow down, significantly.

Minnesota has had one of the best employment improvements compared to most of the other states. Their state budget surplus is great and their unemployment rate is among the best in the U.S. South Dakota and Montana are really a little of each.

One thing about the farm states in the past is that when there were not jobs available you simply packed up and moved on to where there were jobs. Of course there were jobs in those other places then. Today, probably not, so when it is time to move on from Jamestown or Devils Lake will there be any place to go? Maybe to a limited degree Fargo and even Grand Forks for the industrial jobs. Maybe Williston, Minot, Dickinson and other towns in the Patch if there still is a demand out there at that time. Otherwise in a generation or two we will become just another state of unemployment.

In the meantime, here we are, still in the good times. North Dakota continues to lead the way in employment growth, personal income, and tax


Not much to write about concerning the jobs in the northern plains for December 2013 if you have been paying attention over the past three years. North Dakota leads the nation in the unemployment rate. That is, it has the lowest unemployment in the nation. As we enter the winter months there is a slight increase in the amount of unemployment. There are times it is nearly impossible to work under the situation that exists. We all know that and in fact it is expected.

Actually the surprising thing is that the amount of work that gets done gets done. We think the weather man overplays the wind chill, but we know how it is all but impossible to be out in those conditions up on one of those rigs.

So, we see a small increase in unemployment for two or so months and then as things moderate some through March we get moving again. Just watch.

So, we will have that seasonal slowdown and soon we will be back at it. So too will the ranchers with their early calves. Just watch. It is our history. They are a tough bunch whether it is calving, or fracking. Couldn’t be a better place for it to have happened.


Not much we can add that is different from last month. Oh, unemployment is a little higher but that is what we expect as we go into the winter, especially this winter which is, to put it kindly, difficult.
That is for all four states, that it is difficult. The other thing we need to remember is that if we have any thing approaching an industrial state it is Minnesota and really that seems to be having a nice recovery.
We know the reason for North Dakota’s strength. It is mostly oil, and if there is any slow down it can probably be attributed to the slow down in the ag sector. Remember, John Deere laid off something around 60 permanent employees and while the announcements have not been necessarily made as to the numbers we can be comfortable in expecting other ag manufacturing plants to making changes of the same directions and probably the same magnitude. But the slow down has not been much as of yet and we can see that there is still strength in that ag market, so we will just have to wait and see.
As for Minnesota, that is a nice recovery and is creating a nice situation with their budget. For that we can be very pleased. So to the strength with South Dakota and Montana.
Taken together the Northern Plains continues to be the shining star of the American economy. We are fortunate that it is us. It is us. And we need to remember one other thing. The plains people have always understood if jobs are not here it is our responsibility to go find one, and if that means leaving home, well that is what we need to do, as difficult as that is. What ever that takes, here is the data compared to last month:


I called this blog the northern plains because my first choice was already taken. I wanted to call them The Great Plains because that is what they are. A couple of eastern urbanites want to call this part of the world the buffalo commons. They have written that it was a mistake to ever settle this part of the world. They said that this area was too dry. That the land was unproductive.

They were wrong. There are times the rain is short. There are times when there is too much rain. Yes, there are places that the productivity is not what we would wish for, but across most of it, and I mean across nearly all of it, the productivity is just fine. The land in northwestern North Dakota and northeastern Montana is just fine. In fact that is why most of the buffalo were out there. It was the area of the greatest most productive pasture. That land around Lansford is as good as any place in the Red River Valley.

As for the Poppers, the college professors who don’t understand economics, I just read that they were back out here (Kansas I think, but south of here anyway). Don’t know what they are saying now, and really I don’t care.

When I was writing for the daily paper he wrote me saying I was putting too much emphasis on energy development and if you read what I wrote about their theory I never said one word about that. I invited them to come to Grand Forks for a public discussion. They said yes and then cancelled but said they would come “soon”. That was four or five years ago and today when I try to contact them I never get a response from them.

Like the photographer from National Geographic who also got it wrong, I am not going to write about their errors, at least now, but someday soon I will. It is, as I repeat my favorite phrase Econ 101. It demonstrates again the problem of journalism. People writing about subjects they don’t know anything, or at least enough, about.

This posting in many ways is repetitive of others I have made. This simply provides more data to describe why the northern plains are part of the worlds bread basket. And of all the areas of the world that call themselves that we more than most, have the right to do so.

Sitting in an office reading statistics leaves you with one impression of a state, but drive across that state where there are a lot of acres of a particular crop and you may have a different impression of the state.

Drive across North Dakota and you say this is a wheat state, and oil in the northwest, but drive across Minnesota and you understand the difference because of the corn base and also how dairy makes Minnesota different from North Dakota. The predominance of corn is another thing, especially in the southern half.

South Dakota is different again. In terms of acreage it appears to be a 60/40 split between corn and soybeans. As you cross the river it is more a mix of crop with pasture and cattle becoming of great importance.

Montana, again as I mentioned in an earlier posting, is the most unique of the four states I call the northern plains. The eastern one-third to one-half of the state is big rolling farm country, mostly wheat. Then your at the mountains. Fly across Big Sky country from Sea-Tac to MSP. Be sure to get a window seat and what a view of America. You look at all those mountain ranges and between them maybe America at its best. Every little corner of one of those valleys is developed. Where possible there is an irrigation circle, on the hillside a wheat field, and in the wildest parts a pasture. Wish my great-grandfather had listened to that teacher and kept heading west. We are all cowboys in our hearts.

So, here are some more agricultural stats. For those of you who are Plainsmen (and women) while you may not know some of the specifics here you understand what you are going to see. You know the importance of what is here and you know how the makes us what we are. You are those who I am talking about when I talk about the people of the plains, even when we might not agree with one another on every issue.

I would appreciate any questions or comments you have. I always appreciate hearing what you have to say. In my original posting of this column I made a mistake in the way I presented the data for sugarbeets and potatoes. I received an email questioning the way the data appeared and I have now corrected the posting. I also responded thanking him for pointing that out and apologizing, but mostly thanking him for giving me the opportunity to get it right. I meant it when I said it to him, and I mean it when I tell all of you that I appreciate any opportunity to correct my mistakes. Please don’t hesitate to point them out.

Differences of opinion are just that, differences of opinion. However, a mistake is a mistake and will not stand in my columns.


Readers Please Note: There is also a new posting on ag prices immediately below this posting.


As for me, there is nothing that affects the soul like standing in a field of wheat watching a combine disappear into a cloud of dust against the deep red glow of the setting sun. To hear the irregular slugging of the accumulating swath is like listening to the beat of earth’s heart. With the right atmospheric conditions it is a Monet painting come to life and I do feel my soul stirring from its greatest depths. I know then there is a God.

When someone asked me to describe just what my work is now I say it is describing life on the northern plains from an economic and cultural perspective with statistics being the paint brush.
To some that may sound corny. To others, it is impossible. How can a factual tool like a statistics table have any culture to it. Well, to some of us it just goes back to that old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words and “feeling” a statistical table, or graph, or chart being a picture. Understanding, without one written word, just what is in front of you.

I can look at a complex table and “see” the difference among the four states I consider to be in the northern plains. I know the difference between Minnesota’s dairy country that supports many more farms per township than North Dakota wheat country can. It doesn’t make one state better than the other, it makes one different from the other. So too the difference the crops and livestock supported in South Dakota as compared to those in North Dakota and even Minnesota. Although I would call much of South Dakota similar to Minnesota if not identical.

Montana is the state that I am least comfortable in describing. Partly because of the distance from me I certainly am the most unfamiliar with it. Partly though of the four states it changes the most dramatically from the big sky prairie of the east to the dramatic mountain land of the west. What a difference. What a change. I consider the prairie of North Dakota full of a subtle but special beauty, but the dramatic beauty of Montana can only be found within its neighboring Canadian province.

It takes a degree of academic interpretation, but the easiest way to see that difference is to look at each state as an economic table accumulates the states value by crop, or by livestock. That is, dairy has a lot more to do with the culture of Minnesota than North Dakota. On the other hand, the wide open prairie of North Dakota being wheat country means fewer towns and fewer people. Its’ loneliness gives it a dramatic beauty unmatched anywhere else in the United States, and in very few places in the world.

Of course technology affects culture. The facts that trains could go only so far before needing more water and coal had much to do with how often towns were established along the rail.

South Dakota may be the most economically and culturally mixed state of the four, at least in terms of the urban-rural mix, and the difference in that mix within the rural area. The east, especially the southeast, with both its farming and it urban areas is certainly that mix of having an area approaching the definition of urban at least with its ag processing and then its unique business based on the credit card industry.

Then once we understand that something like the explosion of the North Dakota “oil patch” occurs and adds in new factors feelings change. These differences make us different, but there are enough similarities that over the vast majority of our four states we feel our similarities. We are always home.

Authors Note: Those who read my blog will find that this is an expansion of a narrative I wrote for one of my postings. It was titled The Culture of the Economy. This is printed because I want to say these things this Thanksgiving. It is the advantage of being my own boss. I want to do it and I can, and so I do. To every editor who ever told me no, this is one more thing I am giving thanks for.

Ralph Kingsbury owns Kingsbury Economics, an independent firm that contracts for economic research projects. He also publishes economic and cultural statistics of the northern plains at