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Where Wheat is King


It has never been easy to be a farmer in North Dakota. One of the biggest problems can be a lack of rain. North Dakota averages of 17 inches of rain per year, making it one of the driest states. Studies of tree rings show that drought has been a problem in the area since the 1400s. Paradoxically, another problem is too much water. Flooding along the Red River often means standing water in the fields when it is time to plant.

North Dakota has been called the land where wheat is king. Wheat only needs a 100 day growing season. The average in North Dakota is 130 days. Wheat also does well on less than thirty inches of rain. Dry regions produce a high-protein wheat that is ideal for bread.

In 1922 farmers had to reseed their fields after getting too much water in the spring. This meant the crop was late getting into the ground. That was followed dry weather. Rain was badly needed that July, but the rain didn’t come, resulting in a poor crop. On this date, the Fargo Courier News announced that farmers were giving up on the wheat crop, cutting it prematurely to save what they could.

Wheat is subject to more diseases than other grains. This is especially so in wet growing seasons. The wet spring of 1922 brought an attack of black rust. Black rust is a windborne disease. It developed rapidly in the wet conditions. It can cause a complete crop failure. Much of what the farmers cut that year was unusable.

Other crops suffered as well. Potato fields were abandoned. With so much early rain, the potatoes had rotted in the ground. The Courier News reported that there were a few good corn crops, but overall, 1922 was a bad year to be a farmer in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

The Fargo Courier News, July 21, 1922

The United States Department of Agriculture www.usda.gov

Robinson, Elwyn B. History of North Dakota. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.