N.D. farm family embraces new ag technology, looks forward to what comes next

From horse-drawn plows to self-steering machinery, farming has seen many changes through the centuries. Those changes have not gone unnoticed at Fossum Farms in Larimore, N.D. The family farm has been in operation since it was bought in 1941 by P...

From horse-drawn plows to self-steering machinery, farming has seen many changes through the centuries.

Those changes have not gone unnoticed at Fossum Farms in Larimore, N.D. The family farm has been in operation since it was bought in 1941 by Peter O. Fossum.

"Farming has changed significantly in the past 40 years for us," says Judy Fossum, Peter's daughter-in-law. "The technology that has been incorporated into the operation is almost unbelievable."

The farm is into its second and third generation.

Looking back


Peter Fossum was born in 1901, the son of Norwegian immigrants Gustav and Anna Fossum in Gary, Minn. Peter was one of eight children.

In the early 1920s, when Peter was 19, the Fossum family moved near Williston, N.D. The family dug lignite wells on the banks of the Missouri river to heat their log house.

Peter started his own farming operation in the early 1930s near Williston. He had little more than a few horse-drawn plows for machinery. In time, Peter bought a combine, despite his father's insistence that the cattle needed the straw from the thrasher.

In 1928, Peter Fossum met Ella Suldahl of Carpio, N.D., who taught at a country school near the Williston farm. Peter and Ella were married in 1929. The couple had five children.

Ella was the daughter of Anne Jordshaugen Anderson, a Norwegian immigrant who homesteaded near Minot, N.D., as a young woman. Anne and her sister, Thora, emigrated from Norway at a young age.

Because the Williston farm had poor luck from dry conditions and grasshopper infestation, Peter and Ella moved near Inkster, N.D., to farm. They farmed there for a time until a drought destroyed the crops there as well.

The Fossums then moved to a farm near Cavalier, N.D., when some township land was put up for sale. Peter saw promise in the rich, black soil though several people told Fossum the land couldn't produce. Determined to farm the land, he worked hard, using new farming techniques and ideas.

After several failed attempts, Peter purchased a 4-acre farm north of Larimore in 1941. He raised sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens for several years before focusing on crops, which he grew on the land into the 1970s.


Today's farm

Peter and Ella's son, Darrel, purchased the Larimore farm operation from his parents in the early 1970s. He and his wife, Judy, raised five children on the Fossum Farm. While their children have opted for other careers, the Fossums' son-in-law, Daniel Sletten, works for the family farm operation.

Today, wheat, corn, soybeans and navy beans are grown at Fossum Farms, which has grown to 2,000 acres, including several hundred acres of rental land.

"Farming is something you really have to like doing. It can be a lot of hard work and at times during the year it's really intense. You spend all your time with the farm," Sletten says.

Sletten didn't grow up on a farm, but worked on farms throughout his life. Sletten received a degree in biology and worked for several years at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture before joining Fossum Farms.

"I liked the idea of having an opportunity to be part of my own business and felt that living in rural North Dakota would benefit the family," Sletten says.

Changing farms

New technology has allowed farmers to do things that only a few short decades ago were unthinkable.


The Fossums have embraced some of this new technology in an effort to make their operation run more efficiently.

"Although I have only been farming for the past five years, there have been huge changes in farming, in dollars per input costs and the prices of crops," Sletten says. "Farming is getting to be a much bigger operation. Machinery has changed and is bigger, and we rely on electronics."

Tractors, combines, trucks and other farm equipment are full of advanced technology and are better equipped for farm work than the early 1900s farm equipment.

GPS monitors and auto-steer can be found in most tractors and combines. These monitors show areas within a field that have various fertilizer or chemical needs and allow operators to avoid overlaps or other costly mistakes.

"We have seven grandchildren who love to ride in the farm tractors when they come to visit," Judy says. "When the nonfarm children come to help in the fields, they are amazed at the ease of driving a huge tractor with auto-steer."

Auto-steer has helped Sletten keep up with the other farmers. Sletten says, "With the tractor cabs full of computers, radios, cell phones and GPS's, there is a lot going on in the cab. Auto-steer allows us to free up our hands for other things and makes it a lot easier for the operator."

The new technology isn't limited to machinery. Seed and chemical choices are part of the picture, too.

"When we started farming in the late 1960s, there were few choices in chemicals for weeds," Judy Fossum says. "Summer fallow was a practice used that is now shown to contribute to soil erosion. Today, there are many more choices and yields are much better with new seed development by colleges and seed companies. Seeds are treated to prevent diseases and to allow for herbicide spraying on the growing crops."


Today's technology has provided numerous chemical choices and options for weed elimination. Wild oats was the major weed farmers had to deal with in the 1940s. Today, Canada thistle has taken its place as top weed in North Dakota.

The Fossums began grain drying on the farm in the early 1960s and swathing in the early 1980s. The farm now straight combines its crops.

Other types of farm equipment -- such as grain carts in 1992 -- made their way onto the farm as time went on.

"Having a crop consultant has changed the chemical application process, recommendations are suited to the needs of the growing crop," Judy says. "That is one of the ways the farmers are saving on unnecessary expenses."

Technology has even improved farm communication, moving from yelling and to two-way radios, to cell phones and computers.

"Being able to use computers has been a major help in planning field management," Judy says. "Bookkeeping on the computer and the stored information is invaluable. Our son-in-law, Daniel, is the computer expert and used Ag Leader for field planting, fertilizer, seed varieties, spray programs and harvest yields."

Ag Leader is a computer program used as the monitor for computer mapping, yields, steering and any farm information stored within a flash drive. The system has numerous advantages such as automatic shutoff when a machine reaches the end of a field to avoid double planting or spraying which saves on product wastes.

Future farming


While Fossum Farms has added some new technology to its operation in the past several years, the Fossums and Sletten know more new technology is on the horizon and that they may need to consider adding it to their farm operation.

"As things get more efficient, new technology will enable farms to grow to a larger size and continue to some degree," Sletten says. "I also see genetics playing a role in future farming and believe yields will continue to increase with GMOs. We have seen a lot of that with corn in the past years. Technology is more efficient, and although inputs don't change much, farming technology will most likely cut costs on inputs such as fertilizer and fuel."

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