Present Day Farming in Griggs County

Although present day farming predates the founding of the city of Cooperstown, the city has been instrumental in the growth and development of family farms.  Farm implements, repairs and services have always been provided at a high level not found in many towns of its size.

As in the past, the entire family shares in the farm workload but mechanization has eased the workload considerably.  Many farms would not be able to sustain their size were it not for the help of family members.

Family living has been updated in many respects with many new homes having been built and all have been remodeled and enjoy all of the modern conveniences.  Many farm homes are as elaborate as homes in town.

Huge quonset type buildings have replaced the big red barn as the main building outside of the family living quarters.  Quonset type buildings house equipment, serve as a farm shop and store grain.  Steel bins holding thousands of bushels of grain are found on most farms.  Tall silos that make the feeding of all types of roughage possible send it automatically into self-feeders in feedlots holding hundreds of livestock.  Milk from dairy herds flows in stainless steel pipe from the cows to storage and cooling tanks and to transport trucks without any manual labor.

Two-way radios summon the men for dinner, place orders for parts and monitor the movement of men and machines.  Tillage equipment ranges in width to sixty feet and enables one man to till 200 to 300 acres in an average day's work.  Plows being used are as large as eighteen bottoms and it is no longer necessary to stop to rehook the plow when a rock is struck by one of the bottoms.  The introduction of the four-wheel drive tractor has provided the traction and horsepower needed.  Recently, implements that seed and till in one unit have been introduced.

Large combines command a price tag of $100,000 and it is not uncommon to find a single farm unit with an investment of a quarter million dollars in equipment alone.

Variable production costs range from $40 to $60 per acre with fixed costs adding an additional $30 to $40.  With December wheat selling presently for about $3.50 per bushel, 1981 was not a year of high profits for most farms.  County wheat yields average around thirty bushels, barley around forty and sunflowers near 1200 pounds per acre.

Modern day equipment continues a trend towards farms of more tillable acres, more livestock and bigger dairy herds.  Farms of three or four sections are as common today as three or four quarters have been in the past. Wheat and barley still command the largest planted acreage but other crops such as sunflowers, dry beans, corn and soybeans are increasing in percentages.  Since the number of degree-days in Griggs County is borderline for these crops, the risk of these crops failing to mature before a killing frost is quite high.  Harvesting of these crops that mature late can also be a problem.  Nonetheless, greater gross returns on these crops has prompted many farmers to take the additional risks.

Over 4000 acres are presently being irrigated in the county from an underground aquifer that extends primarily on either side of the Bald Hill Creek.  A favorable strata of water bearing sand exists below 100 feet allowing pumping rates of 1000 gallons per minute or more.  Water is applied by lateral move or center pivot sprinkler systems.  Alfalfa, corn and other livestock feeds are grown on most of the irrigated acres.  Potatoes are also being raised and do well under irrigation.  The lack of a local market, special equipment and the need for additional hired labor are some reasons for their limited expansion.  The first lateral move irrigation system installed in North Dakota is located near Sutton.

One of the most significant aids in crop production of recent years is the use of chemicals and fertilizer.  Although they increase production costs considerably, yields achieved today would not be possible without them.  Chemical control of weeds in row crops has been especially helpful.

Farm children are receiving the same level of education as children living in town.  They are picked up at their farm homes by school buses.  Many farmers live in town and commute to their farms to do the work there.

Farming continues to be a life of many variables and a high degree of risk.  Farmer's profits are affected by war in the Mideast or a conference on the economic development of third world countries.  Yet the farmer has flourished and made great strides in increasing productivity and efficiency in food production.  Many farmers find themselves with assets of a million dollars while generating the net cash flow of a blue-collar worker in other industries.

This million-dollar business has evolved from a society of high inflation and a steep rise in land prices, currently in the $600 per acre range.  This farmer retires late in life, lives very modestly and most of his life's earnings will be passed on to his children.

How does the present day farmer view the future? Despite an unpredictable future, most farmers would not exchange their way of life for any other.  The farmer is dogmatic and accepts the ups and downs in stride.

National Geographic Magazine reports it has discovered a place where it hasn't rained for 400 years.  It reported some of the farmers were getting disgusted.  Well, Griggs County farmers may not have that kind of perseverance but they will give it a good try.  They came to farm.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial page 108

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