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Heavy rainfalls slow-start planting in western North Dakota

We rode along the fields in Fairfield, speaking to a local rancher/farmer about this year’s planting season and how the heavy rains in the past month have affected crops.

Dale Heid, a farmer in Fairfield, North Dakota, shows the dampness of the soil in one of his worked up fields Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Dale Heid, a farmer in Fairfield, North Dakota, shows the dampness of the soil in one of his worked up fields Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press
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FAIRFIELD, N.D. — Throughout the past few months, precipitation in western North Dakota has drastically taken a toll on farmers from the April blizzards, heavy rainfalls in May and even a hail storm in June. In Fairfield, a local rancher shared what he’s been dealing with, as he’s trying to rework a field that hasn’t been farmed for several decades, but has had setbacks with the substantial amount of moisture.

Originally from McLaughlin, South Dakota, Dale Heid now works a ranch of Black Angus, Red Angus, Black Baldy and Texas Longhorn cattle in Fairfield, located in northeastern Billings County. Though he mainly works his cattle and does custom fencing on the side, Heid said that he’s eager to get into planting, but this year has been a tough start. Heid noted that when the first April blizzard swept across the state, it brought him about 38 inches of snow. When most farmers would prefer to already be planting their seeds, Heid, like the rest of them, was set back.

“With that happening, of course it prolonged our season and a lot of guys that had ground that was already stubble, they could get in when it dried just a little bit,” Heid said, adding that other farmers were not as fortunate to get out in the fields as early.

Heid noted that he just recently worked up one of his fields. However, due to the field being prairie ground that hasn’t been farmed since the early 1990s, he won’t be able to plant until next spring.

“This is later than I wanted to do this, but because of the timeframe and what’s been happening, I didn’t want to work it again and let it dry out,” Heid said, adding that he plans on seeding the field with millet and oats. “Right now, you're going to see volunteer grass coming in here, but because we’re going to put hay in here, that’s okay. It’s worked up enough; there’s no weeds to speak of.”

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A field located in northeastern Billings County shows heavy amounts of sitting moisture.
A field located in northeastern Billings County shows heavy amounts of sitting moisture.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Heid explained how he worked up the field, remarking that it took some effort.

“So I had to break it up and then had washouts in it and it was unlevel from the years of being prairie. And then, I took it and had to work it twice. So in between the two snowstorms, I finally got it worked twice after the second snowstorm. Then we got rain, which is beautiful, and it’s been raining kind of ever since now,” he said. “Now, this is the first week that I’ve had where it’s going to be dry enough.”

As he grabbed a small mound of dirt from the field, Heid held it in his hands, demonstrating how damp the ground still is from the recent rainfalls .

“When you can make a ball like that, that means you have nice moisture,” he said, explaining, “So now when we come in and seed, we’re going to seed it with the drill and get it right into that moisture and it should come right up.”

Dale Heid, pictured above, is a local farmer/rancher in Fairfield, North Dakota.
Dale Heid, pictured above, is a local farmer/rancher in Fairfield, North Dakota.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Despite the setbacks of getting out into the fields later, Heid said that one of the perks to seeding later is that the ground temperature is warmer compared to spring months.

“It’s like (how) the water warms up in the summer. The ground also warms up and then it germinates faster. The seed will probably come up in three to five days, whereas… if I’d seeded in April, it would have took two weeks. Maybe even three, depending on the coldness that we had,” he added.

A Texas Longhorn cow stands in a field among Black Baldy and Black Angus cattle at Dale Heid's farm in Fairfield, North Dakota.
A Texas Longhorn cow stands in a field among Black Baldy and Black Angus cattle at Dale Heid's farm in Fairfield, North Dakota.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

Another advantage to later seeding is weed control.

“The weeds have a chance to come. I worked them in, I worked them down and I don’t have to spread. So I’m trying to save money by not spraying,” he said, noting the rising costs of fertilizers this year compared to 2021.

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This method also allows him to farm organically, he said.

Dale Heid, left, and his son Branden.
Dale Heid, left, and his son Branden.
Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press

The second generation Ukrainian farmer farms mainly on his own with some hired help as well as his son Branden that comes up from South Dakota to lend a hand. Heid noted that any moisture at all is a blessing, especially since the past few years have been extremely dry in western North Dakota.

“... Thank the Lord that we had enough rain that the extra costs that everybody’s putting in this year will make a difference. And I’m sure it will, because it’s way better than last year already,” he said. “Even our hay, I mean we had no hay last year. It was like a desert.”

READ MORE BY JACKIE JAHFETSON
“There’s a little bit of something for everyone. You come with your family, your kids can find something, the moms can find something, the dads can find something,” Jessica Quandt, owner of JQ Clothing, said.

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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