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August 18: Farming and DDT

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On this date in 1947, two hefty machines made their way through Ward County to spread weed and insect sprays containing DDT. The spraying was apparently a welcomed development. County Agent M. W. Erwin received many letters and calls from those looking to add their properties to the route for a minimal cost.

By mid-August, 125 farms, 803 buildings, 3,151 animals, and eight dairy farms had been sprayed by in Ward County alone. According to an article in the Ward County Independent, DDT spraying was doing wonders for the community. The paper declared that “The cost [of DDT] is tiny. [It] saves money because cows graze better, produce more; [and] people are healthier [and] happier.” It was also noted that “the fairgrounds in Minot were sprayed and people there enjoyed recreation and food free from mosquitoes and disease-carrying flies.” Farmers and townspeople watched as their livestock and communities grew more content with the absence of pestering bugs. Unfortunately, they were unaware that the chemical was harming the environment, not making it thrive.

Since DDT’s widespread use in the 1940s, tests have revealed harmful side effects in humans and animals. It has been linked to disease and cancer in humans, polluted water, and depleted bird and fish populations.

In 1972, DDT was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, but according to the Pierce County Tribune, the ban had little to no effect on North Dakota agriculture. This is because most farmers in the state had refrained from using the chemical several years before the national ban. In 1969, entomologists at NDSU had been notified about the potential risks of DDT, which lead many North Dakota farmers to use alternative pesticides such as malathion and diazinon. With the exception of insect control for potatoes, DDT was officially removed from the North Dakota Insect Control guide in 1970.

Dakota Datebook by Shelby Kriewald

August 21, 1947, Ward County Independent, p. 6.
March 19, 1970, Dickey County Leader, p. 10.
June 4, 1970, Towner Record Herald, p. 9.
April 28, 1971, The Pierce County Tribune, pp.12.
July 12, 1971, The Pierce County Tribune, p. 4.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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