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Hay is baled on CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land in rural Grand Forks county on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. The hay will feed cattle on ranches in western N.D., which has been affected by drought and wildfires this summer. Nick Nelson/Agweek

In a time of need, aggies do their part

We recently wrote here that Grand Forks is an oasis in a sea of drought. We're a couple of inches off our annual average precipitation, but we're thankful for the 10.5 inches of moisture we've received.

And this week, we're also thankful for the spirit of cooperation that's rising up among aggies in the northern Red River Valley.

As drought continues to ravage most of central and western North Dakota, the Grand Forks region largely has been unaffected. It's created a new kind of tourist to the valley, and it's a visitor we welcome with open arms.

Monday, the Herald published a story noting how ranchers are trekking across the state to cut hay from Conservation Reserve Program lands around Grand Forks. Written by Jonathan Knutson — a reporter for our sister publication, Agweek — the story tells how one rancher traveled all the way from Grassy Butte, N.D. That's a 370-mile one-way trip.

Such an effort by that rancher and others shows exactly how bad it is out west.

Most Grand Forks County farmland is wonderful for cropping. Some isn't so great, and that often is placed in CRP, which pays landowners a per-acre fee to set aside sensitive or erodible land and keep it from agricultural production.

Usually, that land is untouched. It provides soil stability and often creates a haven for wildlife. But in times of drought, the government allows it to be harvested as hay.

Here in Grand Forks County, which has been blessed with a moderate amount of rain this summer, the CRP land generally is healthy and green. It has created this influx of agricultural tourists, who hope our excess can help them feed their livestock in a time of great need.

Paul Sproule, a Grand Forks County farmer, told Agweek he is working to connect western ranchers with local landowners. As of last week, he already had talked to more than 20 landowners about letting others hay their CRP acres. Sproule also mentioned the widespread help that came to Grand Forks in the aftermath of the 1997 flood.

Some CRP landowners in the Grand Forks area live outside the state and may not be aware of the need for hay. For those just learning of this effort, there is still time.

We are heartened by this effort, which we consider the true definition of "North Dakota nice." We encourage the region's landowners to open the hearts — and their CRP acres — to ranchers from drought-stricken areas, who have little hope otherwise.

To those central and western North Dakota ranchers visiting here — and who probably have little experience with Grand Forks — we say "welcome to our city." It's unfortunate you aren't visiting under better circumstances, but we hope your stay here is productive and enjoyable.

Meanwhile, we continue to pray for rain.

(The editorial is the work of the Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board.)

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