Ed Schafer was the governor of North Dakota — not the U.S. agriculture secretary.
And wheat was bringing about $5 per bushel — less than a third what it's fetching at many country elevators today.
North Dakota farmers last year led the nation in total wheat production for the first time since 1996, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture rankings released this week. For North Dakota farmers, it's a source of pride to top rival Kansas.
"There's always been that kind of back-and-forth rivalry that goes on between the two of us," said Harlan Klein, an Elgin farmer and chairman of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.
North Dakota typically leads the nation in production of spring wheat and durum wheat, which is used to make pasta. Kansas typically leads in the production of winter wheat, and for the past decade had a stranglehold on the total-wheat production crown.
"We are the wheat state. Nine out of 10 years ... we do produce the most wheat in the United States," said Marsha Boswell, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We give ourselves that slogan."
Last year's crop in Kansas was decimated by disease and weather, particularly a late-spring freeze and flooding later in the season. Total production was pegged at just under 284 million bushels, a drop of more than 16 percent from the state's long-term average, Boswell said.
"The biggest thing for our producers is to lose the production and then see prices do what they've done, and have nothing to sell," she said, referring to prices that have skyrocketed recently because of strong demand.
North Dakota's total wheat crop last year was estimated at 300 million bushels, a 19 percent jump from 2006.
"There's been a lot of hype about corn the past year," Klein said, referring to a record corn crop in North Dakota in response to demand prompted by the ethanol fuel industry. "In reality, this is still a wheat state."
Klein said North Dakota farmers hate to see their counterparts in Kansas suffer through a bad year. He said the good-natured competition is all in fun.
"We have fun at meetings with it, poke back and forth about it," he said.
With farmers able to lock in about $10 per bushel for spring wheat off the combine in the fall, Klein said he expects even more of the grain to be planted in North Dakota this year. Kansas farmers last fall planted half a million fewer acres of winter wheat for harvest this year.
Kansas still has a solid chance of retaking the title of top wheat producer, Boswell said.
"A little bit fewer acres isn't as big a deal if we can get better production on the acres we have," she said.
North Dakota last year also led the nation in the production of barley; oats; canola; oil, non-oil and all sunflowers; flaxseed; pinto, navy and all dry edible beans; dry edible peas, lentils and honey. The state was third in sugar beets and fourth in potatoes.