Prices for farm commodities, particularly grains, have shown a vast improvement in the past few months, according to Frayne Olson, ag economist at North Dakota State University.

"The grain world is a much different place than where we were six to eight months ago," he said. "Soybeans were the first to respond to more Chinese buying."

Doug Goehring, North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture, said purchases by China started slow.

"China started buying beans in August," he said. "The strong dollar made us competitive."

Goehring said their are other factors in play that are improving prices for farm commodities.

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"Dry weather in South America creates stability in the markets," he said. "Strikes in the ports of Argentina also play a part."

The increase in prices goes beyond soybeans to include corn and wheat as well as other crops.

"As we got into the corn harvest, the Chinese came in buying large volumes of corn," Olson said. "We had expected some corn purchases but not that volume."

Wheat prices have been pushed higher because of dry conditions in the wheat raising areas in Russia and Ukraine.

At this time, the prices for all three of North Dakota's major grain crops, corn, soybean and wheat, have increased although soybeans seem to show the largest price jump, Goehring said.

The markets for soybeans have jumped from about $9 per bushel to $13.40 per bushel which will likely be reflected in planted acres this spring, he said.

"Could spur on a lot more activity if we can hold this price," Goehring said. "To some degree, we'll see a lot of beans planted across the nation and North Dakota."

Moisture is still a question, said Jamestown area farmer Dale Reimers.

"We're happy to see the excess moisture dry up," he said, "but when dry conditions extend five or six months it is too much."

Goehring said the state of North Dakota is monitoring the drought conditions and a formal drought task force could be formed if the dry weather continues into the spring.

Olson said the current prices for those three major crops are above the cost of production for North Dakota farmers.

"Ag lender, farmers and a lot of others are breathing a sigh of relief," Olson said. "Weather is the big player going forward, not just locally but globally."

Currently, dry conditions are prevalent in several major crop-producing regions including parts of the United States and Brazil, he said.

Olson also said the higher commodity prices are more of a change in revenue source for farmers than an increase in income.

"There has been a lot of assistance packages to U.S. farmers," he said. "Looking forward, farmers will make money from the marketplace. Some of the programs may go away as revenue sources have changed."

Olson estimates that for many farmers, net income could remain steady with revenue from crop sales rather than farm programs.

"The North Dakota economy is driven by farm net income," he said. "This doesn't change the North Dakota economy greatly but changes the source of income for the ag sector."