Farmers Respond To Historic Drought

Many people think of North Dakota as a quiet, desolate, one of the flattest states in America. In reality there is a much deeper love for the natural beauty of the state ranging from it’s great plains to the wildlife and everything in between.

North Dakota is in the upper half of the US in terms of Agricultural Production. The 21st overall state contributes to 2% of the United States agricultural production. The estimated 26,000 person workforce has had it’s livelihood tested in the recent year due to the pandemic, and a historic drought.

August of 2020 was the last time a North Dakota farmer had seen consistent rain. Logan Lund, a farmer in Tonla, North Dakota and University of Jamestown Alum has been working with his father for the past three years. “It was a big turn of events” Lund said, “Last August we started taking precautions to preserve water”.

The drought in North Dakota is of one of historic proportions, these conditions have not been faced since the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Lund has been working the field with his father as long as he can remember, they have developed a great relationship with farmers whose property they border along with friends in the industry. “ We got lucky… but some of our best friends are dealing with a third of the crop that they normally had”.

Dealing with that reality is something that may impact more and more farmers as the climate continues to change. Lund says he doesn’t have time to worry about things that are far ahead in the future. Working a 3000 acre farm is difficult as is, so thinking about the climate is something that Lund says that the climate is always in the back of his mind. 

For many farmers dealing with the drought hasn’t been easy. Many farmers had “2 feet tall corn crops that were selling at 60-70 a bushel”. These farmers can have no control over the environmental conditions but have to deal with the consequences. North Dakota has one of the most brutal winters in America in regards to temperature and snowfall. But with the climate changing and creating much more severe storms creates a different type of challenge for these farmers.

Farmers are now implementing technology into their equipment and machinery to improve the farming process and grow better crops. Lund uses an Ipad in his combine to find which plot of land is producing a better crop and notifying which crop is ready to be harvested. Many farmers alike in the state use similar techniques especially with the impact of severe storms becoming more common. 

We also got the chance to speak with Dr. Adnan Akyüz, a climatologist and professor at North Dakota State University. Dr. Adnan has studied and worked in the climatology world for over thirty years, the bulk of that time being spent in the Midwest. When asked about this drought and how long it may last he said, “It’s too difficult to tell, sometimes the drought starts and tapers off in the fall, with no rainfall, so it could continue to 2022”.  One statistic that was given stated 77 percent of the state is still in a drought,  and 45 percent being under a severe drought. Given the severity of this drought and how widespread it is, the end of it isn’t easy to predict.

This is a problem that started back in 2020 and the state hasn’t been able to recover since. Unfortunately it is not a stand still either, not only is it not getting better but it’s getting worse.  This was the droughts maximum intensity in 2021,“On May 25 the percent coverage for D4 reached 17 percent and that marks the largest extent of exceptional drought on record”. Twenty weeks of a D4 category drought is the most intense that a drought can get. Farmers on the Eastern side of the state were lucky to see rainfall because  the western portion of the state received almost no rain at all.

Ever since a historically dry winter in 2020 it was clear this drought wasn’t slowing down. Farmers and those that work around and with them had to start taking precautions so their land wouldn’t go to waste. It’s been rough but there is a bright side.

The bright side is that in the central and eastern part of the state the recent rainfall has really helped, even though we’re still feeling the effects of the drought. The state isn’t ignoring this problem either, says Dr. Akyüz, “the state is sensitive to provide certain programs for the farmers to mitigate the impact of the damage and fortunately most farmers took advantage of these programs”.  Given the revenue and employment that farming provides in North Dakota, there should be no shortage of work done to help. We can’t force nature to put water where we want it but we can’t let it ruin the farms and lives of those who depend on it.

Pictured Corn grown in a drought plot (Left) Corn Grown in a non drought affected plot(Right)

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