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Weekend storms leave Red River Valley farmers to salvage submerged crops

GRAFTON, N.D. -- Weekend storms hit farms in the Red River Valley hard, leaving behind acres of crops submerged in water and damage to buildings and trees.

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Randy Slominski starts up a pump to drain a corner of a sugarbeet and pinto bean field south of Grafton Monday. Ron Spale, left, who farms the field, says a larger tractor-powered pump in the background had been running for 40 hours to drain the flooded field. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAFTON, N.D. - Weekend storms hit farms in the Red River Valley hard, leaving behind acres of crops submerged in water and damage to buildings and trees.

Eastern Walsh County was hit worst by storms, Brad Brummond of the North Dakota State University Extension Service said. The area most affected is within a 4-mile radius of Grafton, as well as areas east and south of Pisek.

"A lot of those fields were pretty much submerged," Brummond said.

According to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, the Grafton area saw 2.19 inches of rainfall on June 17, the day the majority of storms occurred. An estimate from Kristi Britnell, County Farm Service Agency executive director, put the storm's path across Walsh County at about 45 miles long by 25 miles wide.

Other badly damaged areas include Minto, Warsaw and Drayton.


It's too early to know the full extent of crop loss because most damaged fields are still underwater. Brian Sieben, location manager at Crop Production Services in Grafton, said they would have to wait a week to survey the damage. But farmers in the area have their estimates.

"We're in unknown waters here," said Tom Campbell of Campbell Farms. "Excuse the pun."

Campbell expects to lose 15 to 20 percent of his potatoes, although he said this estimate is probably premature. The roof of Campbell Farms' warehouse in Grafton also was badly damaged by weekend storms.

However, Campbell would rather the fields be too wet than too dry-too much water can destroy crops in some areas, but also can result in "beautiful moisture" throughout the rest of the yield. He's optimistic the remaining 80 percent will be a good crop.

Ron Spale also farms in the area. In his 137 tillable acres, Spale grows mostly sugar beets and pinto beans. By Monday afternoon, Spale, along with Randy Slominski and Juan Galvan, had been pumping water from Spale's land for around 40 hours.

Slominski stood at the edge of an underwater field and held a floating pumper in place.

"We're slowly getting it off this field," he said. "Hopefully they make it now."

While some of the crops will survive, many won't. Spale estimates only 40 of his 70 acres of sugar beets will be good to harvest-the other 30 acres will have rotted away. Out of 37 acres of pinto beans, he'll be able to salvage around 15 acres.


"This is the worst water damage in the summer I have seen in my 23 years here as an extension agent," Brummond said.

Overall, Brummond estimates severe losses in pinto beans, soybeans and potatoes-as much as 30 to 40 percent of each crop in the Red River Valley area of Walsh County, where storms hit hardest. He also puts spring wheat losses at around 25 percent. And though sugar beets withstand severe weather relatively well, he still expects 20 to 25 percent of area crop to be lost.

"Just because we have some survivors, we're gonna have some weak, sick survivors," Brummond said of the local pinto bean crop. Walsh County is normally a national leader in pinto bean production.

More showers and thunderstorms are expected in the area on Wednesday, with a 60 percent chance of precipitation in the Grafton area and rainfall between a 10th and a quarter of an inch likely, according to the National Weather Service.

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