From too wet to too dry: North Dakota farmers battle drought after years of flooded fields
Rocklake, N.D., farmers Carie and Jason Moore, like other farmers across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, are dealing with abnormally dry conditions after years of being excessively wet.
ROCKLAKE, N.D. — Carie Moore got all of her fields seeded in the drought year of 2021.
That’s one of the upsides of the dry conditions for the Rocklake farmer who typically has to seed around about 50 acres of sloughs and ponds.
On the downside, her crops now are struggling and showing signs of going backward because of lack of rain . Only about 7.5 inches of rain have fallen in 2021, and last fall also was dry, Moore said.
Moore, and her husband, Jason, like other farmers across northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, are dealing with abnormally dry conditions after years of being excessively wet.
North Dakota topsoil moisture supplies were rated 41% very short, 46% short and 13% adequate for the week ending Sunday, July 25, according to National Agricultural Statistics Service-North Dakota.
The Moores, who have been farming since 2012, switched their roles three years ago. Jason, who had been farming full-time and trucking part-time, became a full-time trucker, and Carie, who had worked as Towner County Conservation District director, quit that job to farm. The arrangement gives her the flexibility to stay home with the couple’s three children when Jason is gone overnight on long hauls.
Among Carie Moore’s duties as full-time farmer is scouting her fields. A recent check indicated the drought has taken a toll on the wheat and barley, she said.
Wheat stands, for example, are uneven. Some fields haven’t headed out, others are starting to head out and still others are beginning to turn from green to gold. Part of the wheat that is headed out doesn’t look like it should, Moore said.
“There are a lot of heads that didn’t fill right. They’re half the size and really deformed. They were trying to fill with seed when it was really hot,” Moore said. "Half of the stuff I walked through was like that. I don’t know if that will cut our yield in half, because the head is half the size.”
Just two years ago, in 2019, wheat and barley fields were so wet that the Moores couldn't harvest them. Instead, they burned most of their wheat crop the following spring. The fields still were too wet to plant in spring 2020, even after burning.
“It’s one extreme to the other. I wish we could find a happy medium,” Moore said during a break from haying on a field in Crocus Township, just outside of Egeland, N.D., which is about 20 miles south of the Moores’ Rocklake farm.
Moore puts up big, round bales of hay for Nelson Angus Ranch near Egeland. The hayfield she was baling on a mid-July day was poor quality, but the Nelsons, like other ranchers who are short on feed, will mix it with other forage to boost its nutritional value.
Cattle producers are searching for feed because the drought has devastated their pastures and drastically reduced forage yields. Many ranchers already have reduced herd numbers, and they're concerned about finding enough feed for the remainder of the year.
“This year, in the drought, we’re trying to get quantity over quality,” Moore said. Meanwhile, water holes are drying up , and many of the ones that do remain contain blue-green algae, which is toxic to livestock.
A lack of available water also appears to have discouraged bees from pollinating the Moores’ canola fields, she said.
"I'm glad we didn't fertilize it because I'm worried about pollination. There’s no water for pollinators — no puddles, nothing,” Moore said.
While it’s unlikely the wheat, barley and canola will yield well this year, she still has hope for good soybeans yields because a couple of July rains fell in time to benefit that crop. Meanwhile the Moores’ soybean input costs so far are low, because they didn’t fertilize the soybeans.
Moore hopes flea beetles won’t attack the soybeans, since spraying for them would raise production costs.
“As long as we don’t have to spray for those, I think our soybeans are going to pull us through,” Moore said.
The Moores’ fields will need rain if they are going to get soybeans or any other type of crop next year.
“It’s going to be tough going into next year if we don’t get anything,” she said. “I don’t know what we’d do."