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It was a crop insurance year for most farmers this year, with record heat and drought driving yields to the lowest in memory for many farmers.
There were still some bright spots, however, here and there, depending on where you were, what you were growing, and how the rain fell.
Tom Wheeler, in the Ray area, was among farmers seeing 25 bushels of durum on some fields, and then 30 bushels 4 to 5 miles further northwest.
Williams County Extension Agent Kelly Leo said several farmers in the Ray area did get 20 to 30 bushels an acre for wheat, but it was crop insurance for most of the rest of the county.
Soybean numbers were up in the county, Leo said, while sunflower and flax numbers were down. Wheat, too, claimed a substantial portion of acreage.
"A lot of farmers went with small grains because durum and spring wheat tend to be pretty tough, you know, they'll come through," Leo said. "They may not produce much in the end, which is what we saw ins one areas. I heard five to seven bushels to the acre and we ended up haying it they said, because, you know, you can't even pencil the fuel to run the combine and the trucks for that low of a yield."
The Grenora area was one of the low-yield areas. Wade Fischer, who farms in that area, said the yields he saw on his fields were the worst he's ever seen since taking over the farm. It was a crop insurance year for him and all the farmers he knows.
"We knew it going into seeding, and it stayed that way all the way through," Fischer said. "We started harvesting everything, and everything was crop insurance for yield. I don't know if that's ever happened on the farm completely. In 2017, we had some fields that were crop insurance."
Despite that, Fischer said he was happy with what he did get.
"We could have been not cutting anything because there was nothing there, and grasshoppers could have taken it all," he said. "We were able to cut our whole farm, and we were happy with the crop insurance. We hope next year is better than this year."
There was a bright spot for Fischer, though.
The organic flax field he planted, where crop insurance was too cost prohibitive, actually yielded a decent crop, made a little money. And he also saw better yields on an organic durum field than on the adjacent half of the field, where he continued conventional farming.
"Last winter, I was planning on this spring tilling the soil and then planting seed into (the organic field)," he said.
But he changed his mind. He believes that decision saved some of the yield on the organic durum.
"I talked to an organic farmer over in Glenwood and he turns his soil over and then he seeds it," Fischer said. "And he's like he had no yield."
Fischer noticed in areas where soil was disturbed, yields were significantly lower.
Fischer has grown hemp in some years, which is a drought-tolerant crop, but he didn't try it this year.
"It just scares me how late the season gets to harvest," he said. "And then we me not turning over the soil, there's a lot of fibers. I would have to swath the fiber, bail it, and then I think I'd be fine."
Fischer said he's giving cover crops a try this year. The lack of moisture has made germination difficult.
"We're hoping to take care of the soil and baby our soil," he said. "And hopefully that helps out."
The livestock side of farming and ranching has also been difficult this year, Leo said.
"My livestock producers that I've talked to a lot of them sold down you know 30 to 50 percent," she said. "And we're already talking last year we were low on cow numbers nationwide. So I can't imagine that's going to improve the situation any. And then, you know, cattle prices haven't rebounded like commodity prices have or crop prices."
Leo said she's even talked to a few producers who sold completely out.
"But, you know, we're smaller herds here, so you know if a guy has 35 cows and sold out, that's only 35 cows," she said. "It's not like a guy who has 500 head and has to cut by 30 percent. That's significant."
Leo spent a significant portion of her time testing water supplies in the county this summer. She also encountered reports of more than the usual number of ate season cyanobacterial blooms , due to the number of hot days during the fall.
"We had quite a bit of livestock water that tested really high in sulfates," she said. "And we did have a few cattle die from some pretty tough water."
With so much heat and evaporation, water becomes so brackish, it's the equivalent of drinking seawater due to all the minerals left in it.
She's also taken a large number of calls on deer deaths due to EHD.
"That's not one that we are concerned with for cattle," she said. "It doesn't affect humans, and it doesn't affect most classes of livestock."
Deer will typically be found dead near a water source, which prompts concern to come and test the water as well as examine the deer.
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