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There's some good financial news to be found in the ag sector

The financial focus in recent weeks continues to be on Wall Street and the shrinking stock market that's been fostered by problems in the financial industry. If a person is looking for good financial news, however, one need look only to the grain markets, where prices are again surging upward.

In the past week, spring wheat prices are up $1 a bushel as it nears the $13 mark, while flax also is racing upward toward the $15 vicinity. Milling quality durum prices are floating in that $19-$20 per bushel range, while sunflowers are pushing toward $24 per hundredweight.

Even corn, which is most responsible for this major upswing in grain prices due to the ethanol industry's hunger for the product and a record crop nationally in 2007, is up to nearly $5 a bushel.

American farmers grew 13.1 billion bushels of corn last year, blowing away the previous record of 11.8 billion bushel in 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture reported earlier this month. North Dakota's corn crop skyrocketed an amazing 75 percent from 2006 and totaled 273 million bushels.

As most of us already knew, the thousands of additional acres planted in corn severely impacted the soybean crop. The 2007 soybean harvest fell about 2.6 billion bushels as 62.8 million acres were harvested, or about 16 percent less in 2007.

Sunflower production managed a serious 40 percent increase in production in 2007 compared to the year previous, as the National Sunflower Association reported 2.5 billion pounds were harvested. Total harvested sunflower acres were up 13 percent in 2007, and the average yield increased by 273 pounds to 1,452 pounds per acre. North Dakota's average yield was estimated at 1,440 pounds.

The only downside to the great grain prices is the livestock industry, as producers looking for feed alternatives across the country due to severe drought conditions must pay the higher prices. Grain and livestock producers also continue to be hit by higher energy bills and fertilizer bills.

Despite these higher costs, however, there is much to smile about in the ag sector, which helps paint a bit brighter overall picture for the country's economy.