Devils Lake claims more farmland
By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek
n Devils Lake claims more farmland; late planting, salinity are concerns, too
The last thing that Dan Erickstad and other farmers in North Dakota’s waterlogged Devils Lake Basin needed was more moisture.
The late March storm that dumped snow and rain in the Devils Lake region will make it even harder for Erickstad, a Webster, N.D., farmer, and other producers there to plant their fields — the ones not already under water, that is.
“I don’t want to complain after what’s happened in Japan. But this has been going on for years. My son and I already have lost about 1,400 acres” of farmland to rising waters, he says.
Dan Erickstad and his son, Jonathan, aren’t alone.
Farmers in the Devils Lake area, in north-central North Dakota, have lost 163,450 of producing farmland since the lake began rising in 1993, officials say.
The lake is roughly four times bigger than in 1993.
To put the lost acreage in perspective, it’s roughly twice the number of acres planted to potatoes in North Dakota last year.
This year alone, the rising waters will inflict a $194 million economic hit, including a $57.6 million loss to the crop sector, according to an analysis issued earlier in March by the North Dakota State University Extension Service.
That analysis doesn’t even take into account another 20,000 to 30,000 acres that will go unplanted if submerged roads make them inaccessible, says Bill Hodus, Ramsey County, N.D., extension agent and one of the report’s three authors.
The other two were NDSU Extension Service farm management specialist Dwight Aakre and Randal Coon, NDSU research specialist.
Making matters even worse is that many fields in the Devils Lake area were so saturated with moisture, even before the recent snowstorm, that planting them may be impossible until late May or early June, he says.
Planting so late limits the crops that can be planted and likely will hurt yields.
Affected farmers are “disappointed” and “discouraged” that a solution to the rising waters hasn’t been identified and implanted, Hodus says.
Hodus farmed himself near Edmore, N.D., until quitting in 1993. Rising water levels in the Devils Lake area contributed to the decision, he says.
Plenty of problems
The $194 million loss identified by the report included losses to personal income and the retail trade sector, as well as the $57.6 million loss to crops.
The $57.6 million reflects the average acreage of each crop grown in the area, five-year average yield for each crop and the estimated market price for each crop.
Dan Erickstad says the report reflects the economic damage by rising waters.
The 1,400 acres of land that he and his son have lost represent nearly half of the 3,000 acres they would be farming, he says.
Rising waters also have forced producers to move buildings, or put up new ones, and are swamping roads, hindering or even preventing access to fields, he says.
“Unless you see it for yourself, you can’t realize how bad it us,” he says.
The late March storm brought about 0.75 of an inch of moisture to the city of Devils Lake, says Jeff Frith, manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board.
Devils Lake has about 7,100 residents.
The area north of Devils Lake generally received less moisture than the town, while the area south of town received more precipitation, he says.
“We just didn’t need any more,” Frith says.