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It's dry, but relatively good in Beach, ND

BEACH, N.D. — This wasn't a good growing season for farmers in the Beach area. But farmers and ranchers here know many of their drought-stricken neighbors are far worse off.

"It's definitely been a challenging year for us," said Levi Hall, general manager of the Beach Cooperative Grain Co. Even so, "All summer long, Beach has been the greenest spot I've seen as I've driven around southwest North Dakota. It's not something to brag about, because we were definitely dry, but you don't need to go far from here to see some of the worst spots in the state."

The Beach area has received about 3½ inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, roughly half of normal. Most of that moisture fell in several showers, each of them producing .30 of an inch.

"We also had two big rains, one on July 2 and one on July 10, and by big I mean about half an inch (each). That was just enough to fill the wheat heads. It's what saved us," Hall said.

On the day of a late-August visit — temperatures soared into the mid-90s that afternoon — about 90 percent of spring wheat in his trade area was harvested. Most fields yielded 25 to 35 bushels per acre, far less than in the past few years, which were abnormally good for wheat production in the Beach area.

Wheat yields this year probably weren't high enough for Beach-area farmers in general to reach break-even on their crop, even at the higher prices to which wheat rose this summer, Hall estimated.

Beach, population about 1,100, is the county seat of Golden Valley County, which has about 1,850 residents. Small grains and cattle traditionally dominate agriculture here, but other crops, including corn, canola, sunflowers and pulses, are grown, too.

Pulses — the collective name for 12 crops that include lentils, dry beans, dry peas and chickpeas — are increasingly popular with farmers in the Beach co-op's trade area. The area's semi-arid climate is good for growing pulses, and pulses' rising popularity with consumers and as an ingredient in pet food helps prop up the price farmers receive.

There's a steep learning curve in growing pulses, but Beach-area farmers new to the crop have a source of knowledgeable help.

"We've got a really good community out here in southwest North Dakota. They're really good about helping each other out," Hall said. "We've got some great growers in this area who have been active in pulses since they (pulses) got started here. They've been great resources for guys in their first year of growing them. "

The Beach area's pulse harvest was nearly wrapped up on the day of our visit.

Pea yields generally were good, though the small size of many of the peas will complicate selling them and potentially could lower what farmers are paid for them, Hall said.

Lentil yields generally weren't as good, and farmers who grew them probably didn't harvest bushels to reach profitability, he estimated.

History, future

The Beach Cooperative Grain Co., which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, is an independent co-op, one of the few that remain.

"We've always prided ourselves on being financially stable and super-progressive. Last year, we added a second location in Baker, Mont. It's working pretty well," given the second straight year of drought in the Baker area, Hall said.

The co-op has about 1,200 patrons and 14 employees between the two locations.

The cooperative's second century will include an even stronger connection to pulses.

Last year, the Beach co-op partnered with Fargo-based Anchor Ingredients, which sources and supplies to the food and pet food industry, to form Golden Valley Ingredients. The joint venture will process pulse ingredients for export, as well as for the domestic food and pet food industries, at a new "state-of-the-art processing facility," the only one of its kind in North Dakota and possibly in the region, Hall said.

Construction of the facility, which will be next to the co-op's main Beach location, began shortly before our visit. The plant is expected to open next year.

"We're really excited about how this will push us into being not just a local market, but also a global market," Hall said.