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Dried corn shines in the fall sunlight near Washburn, N.D. on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

'Mother Nature turned off the spigot': Too dry, too long in central ND

WASHBURN, N.D. — Rick Tweeten has been farming since 1986. The Washburn farmer knows all too well that in some growing seasons, the weather just doesn't cooperate. That was the case again this year, despite some promising weeks.

"We started off in May with no moisture. Then June had pretty good moisture, and things were looking pretty good," he said. "But then a hailstorm came through (in late June), and Mother Nature turned off the spigot. And we went the other way in a hurry."

Washburn, population about 1,300 and the county seat of McLean County, is north of Bismarck, N.D., and south of Minot, N.D.

Though energy and tourism are important industries in McLean County, the area boasts fine cropland, some of which is irrigated. Nearly every type of crop grown in North Dakota is raised in McLean County.

"This area is very diverse, with a lot of different crops," Tweeten said. He ticked off a long list and added, "I've probably left off a few."

Spring wheat remains a cornerstone, with corn and soybeans — the region's other major crops — increasingly prominent, as well.

The Blue Flint Ethanol plant in Underwood, N.D., encourages farmers in the area to grow crops.

Dry edible beans are a staple in Tweeten's area.

"They were introduced here (in the Washburn area) in 1984. We first had them on our farm in 1986, and they've been a main part of our rotation ever since," said Tweeten, a fourth-generation farmer. "Year in, year out, they're typically our best net crop."

This year, his farm, which utilizes both conventional and minimum-tillage practices, raised pinto beans, soybeans, corn, spring wheat and yellow peas. The farming operation includes a certified wheat seed business, which sells certified, registered seed to farmers within a 50-mile radius of the Tweeten farm. The Tweeten family began the seed business in 1964.

Tweeten described his now-harvested wheat crop as "average." Wheat, a cool-season grass, is planted and harvested earlier than most other crops, which makes wheat less dependent on mid-summer rains.

Agweek visited Tweeten's farm on a mid-September day. His dry bean harvest was nearly ready to begin.

"The pinto beans will struggle (with poorer-than-hoped-for yields)," as will the soybeans, he said.

He's already harvested some corn, far earlier than unusual, reflecting the hail damage and dry summer, which accelerated the crop's normal development.

The corn "isn't even close to average," Tweeten said. Corn, like the other late-season crops, "just needed a few more shots of rain and didn't get them."

In short, "Not a real good harvest and then with commodity prices the way they are, added on top of that," Tweeten said.

Then he shrugged and said, "But we'll survive."