By Molly Miron
Special to the Pioneer
BEMIDJI – Northern Minnesota hasn’t suffered the record drought of other Midwest venues, but the lack of rain has caused considerable distress.
From June 1 through Aug. 20, the northern part of Beltrami County received 5.5 inches of rain, according to Jim Kaiser, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D. In general, crops need close to an inch per week to thrive.
However, Kaiser said, some areas fared better, such as southern Clearwater County where the University of Minnesota Itasca Research Station reported almost 10 inches during the same period.
Loralee Nennich, who owns and operates Terlee Gardens near Bagley with her husband, Terry Nennich, said this was the first year they had to irrigate in the spring to germinate the corn.
“We’ve never had to do that before,” she said. “It’s incredibly, incredibly dry.”
Terry said he had run the irrigation pump for 550 hours as of two weeks ago.
“I think it’s a lot more than that now,” he said. “We’ve probably used five or six times more (water) than normal. We’re putting on nearly an inch every two days.”
But, he said, for growers who have access to irrigation, the crops look good.
“The interesting this is this all started last fall,” said Bob Anderson, who farms of Solway. “The ground was so hard from being dry we couldn’t work our fields.”
Working the soil in the spring causes of loss of moisture, he said.
Anderson said his wheat crop was about half the expected yield. “We normally get around 50 bushels (per acre) – we got 26,” he said.
Soybeans are also suffering, Anderson said. “They’re wilted, and the top pods are not filling.”
The hay crop is even worse, he said. “Usually, I get three (large, round) bales to the acre. This year I got one.”
The price of hay reflects the poor cutting, too. “Right now it’s $100 a ton, if you can find it,” he said.
Usually grass hay runs $50-$60 per ton, he said, and alfalfa about $70 per ton.
Because pastures have stopped growing back, Anderson said he and many other livestock producers had to haul cattle home. He said he expects the upcoming sale at the Bagley Livestock Auction will have a large number of animals on offer, but at low prices. For example, he said the baby calves that went for $1.75-$2 per pound at the spring sale are selling now as yearlings for $1.20 per pound instead of the usual $1.40-$1.45.
The dry period reminded Doris Pierce of Alaska Township of the severe 1930s drought. After her grandfather died, Doris and her parents, George and Alma Egtvet, came from west central North Dakota to help her grandmother with her farm on Dellwater Lake. It was 1935, and Pierce was 6 years old.
Their farm in North Dakota had succumbed to the Dust Bowl. Doris remembers cleaning up the dust that seeped into their brand new, tightly built house during every dust storm. And the land had totally dried up – no grass, no crops.
“We were flat out dust,” she said.
They packed up a truck and a Model T with their household goods and drove east.
“We got to Minnesota where there was water,” Doris recalled. “We got out of the car to have our picnic, and I thought, ‘It’s grass and it’s high and it’s green.’”
That was the first time she had seen green grass.
Pierce said her father returned to their North Dakota farm every spring to plant and every fall to harvest, but it was many years before the land recovered and crops prospered again.
By Molly Miron