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Harvest for Fairdale, N.D., farmer nears end

FAIRDALE, N.D. -- Baseball fans hate rain delays. Farmers hate them even more. Just ask Dustin McGregor, whose harvest has been shut down repeatedly by precipitation in recent weeks.

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Photo by Nick Nelson

FAIRDALE, N.D. - Baseball fans hate rain delays. Farmers hate them even more. Just ask Dustin McGregor, whose harvest has been shut down repeatedly by precipitation in recent weeks. 

“It gets a little frustrating,” says the Fairdale, N.D., farmer. “You’re all ready to go, and then it starts raining again.”
But he’s not alarmed, thanks to a strong and early start to harvest that should allow him to overcome three weeks of rain that have dumped roughly 7 inches.
“Just a few good days - three or maybe four - would be all we need,” he says.
McGregor and his family were profiled in the May 18 cover article of Agweek. The story looked at the satisfactions and challenges of the 30-year-old, fourth-generation producer, his wife, Sara, and their baby son, Ben. The magazine has been checking back with the McGregors since then.
Agweek’s most recent trip to Fairdale came on an October afternoon for which dry weather had been forecast. Dustin was able to harvest a few acres of soybeans, the last of his crops still to be harvested, before rain began to fall and shut him down once again.
The unwanted moisture affected others in his family, too, including his uncle, Ed Liebersbach of Hoople, N.D., who had taken time off from his job outside agriculture to help Dustin harvest the soybeans.
“This (being shut down by rain) is disappointing,” Liebersbach says with a shrug. “But you can’t do anything about it. It’s just the way farming goes sometimes.”
On family farms such as the McGregors, relatives, including those who work outside agriculture, often help during harvest. The band-together-to-bring-in-the-crop attitude is among the things that make the season so special.

Earl and Sharlene McGregor, Dustin’s parents who are semi-retired from farming, help during harvest, too.
The rain that falls this October afternoon forces Sharlene to stop chisel plowing, a type of tillage in which the soil is stirred without having its surface turned.
(Dustin handles chisel plowing, as well. He recently took advantage of relatively dry conditions to chisel plow one night until midnight. “The Northern Lights were just so beautiful,” he says.)
Sharlene, with a lifetime of agricultural experience, has a balanced perspective on the recent run of wet weather.
“All this rain has gotten us behind on field work,” she says. “But at the same time, we know the moisture will be helpful for next year’s crop.”

Early start helped

Dustin McGregor grows wheat, barley, canola and soybeans, all of which benefitted from this year’s early start to planting.
Wheat and barley, cool-season grasses that fare best when they avoid mid-summer heat, were helped the most. Dry conditions during the wheat and barley harvest in August were good for the crops’ yields and quality, as well.
The dryAugust had only modest impact on McGregor’s canola, which was harvested after the wheat and barley. He’s generally pleased with how his canola turned out, though it didn’t yield quite as well as his wheat and barley.
McGregor’s soybeans were hurt by the dry August, however. What potentially was a good bean crop turned into merely an average one.
“The beans really could have used one more rain in August,” he says. “But we also have to take into account that (the lack of August precipitation) was good for the wheat harvest.”
Family remains a priority, even during harvest.
Sara works full time as an administrative assistant at the North Dakota State University Extension Research Center in Langdon. Agricultural economists stress the importance of off-farm income, and the McGregors say Sara’s job provides it.
Ben, who was born prematurely in January, continues to do well. Normally, harvest would prevent Dustin from spending as much time as he’d like with his son. But the recent rain delays have allowed the two to spend more time together.
“He’s about ready to start crawling,” Dustin says of Ben. “The time just passes so fast.”
Dustin is pleased with quality and yields of his 2015 crop. But prices, despite a recent rally, remain low.
“It’s going to be hard, really hard, to finish in the black. Maybe, if prices keep going up, we’ll have a chance,” he says, echoing what most other area farmers say about 2015 profit potential.
His immediate concern is completing harvest. He’s close - and just a few days of favorable weather would get him across the finish line.
“It’s such a good feeling to be done with harvest,” he says.
Agweek will check back with the McGregors later this year. Like other area farm families, they’ll have plenty to do after harvest, what’s commonly referred to as “meeting season” in agricultural circles.

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Related Topics: CROPS
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