Barnes County is one of 16 in the state that have been declared an agricultural disaster by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this week.
David Shea, of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency office in Valley City, said the declaration is based on the county’s drought level and drought conditions, and opens the door for area farmers to apply for low-interest loans through the FSA’s farm loan program.
“They’re eligible for emergency loans but they have to qualify for them,” Shea said.
“They’d have to prove that their income is going to be low because of the drought conditions and the crop conditions.”
The Valley City FSA office doesn’t handle the loans themselves; the Stutsman County FSA office deals with farmers on the west side of the Sheyenne River and the Cass County FSA office handles farms on the east side of the river.
Barnes County’s North Dakota State University Extension Service Agent Randy Grueneich said he didn’t think many farmers in the county would take advantage of the emergency loans.
“Most guys here, they’re not going to take one out because the last thing they want is another loan,” Grueneich said.
Other counties included in the disaster declaration are Benson, Cass, Eddy, Foster, Grand Forks, Griggs, LaMoure, Nelson, Ramsey, Ransom, Richland, Steele, Stutsman, Trail and Walsh.
Of Barnes County’s three major crops, wheat did quite well in this year’s hot, dry growing season, while corn and soybeans fell behind.
“If we would’ve had moisture the heat wouldn’t have been an issue, but it evaporates and the crop uses more on a hot day,” Grueneich said.
The bulk of the corn yield develops in July, but with the drought continuing into August the plant itself is becoming affected.
“The biggest risk from the dryness now is that the stalks themselves are weak, and a lot of the ears aren’t attacked very strongly so we’re very concerned about the corn’s ability to stand before we can get it harvested,” Grueneich said. “A lot of agronomists are recommending getting in after the corn as soon as we can so we can avoid a possible wind storm that might snap a lot of cobs off.”
The heat this year has also pushed soybeans to mature faster than usual and the dryness has hurt the crops’ yield. Soybean pods develop from the bottom of the plant to the top, and with less moisture, the tops of plants in some fields have been left barren sticks.
In other states hit worse by the drought the supply of hay for animal feed is also down, driving the cost of hay in North Dakota up. Corn prices have also risen since the drought set in, raising the price of feed, which for now, appears to be leveling off.
“Corn has all ready been adjusted for the most part, I don’t thing we’ll see a lot of increase right now, but it’s anybody’s guess depending on what the national yield comes in at. Certainly livestock feed is much higher than it was last year, especially for finishing cattle and feedlots,” Grueneich said.