WINDSOR, N.D. — Terry Wanzek was away on vacation when a historic snowstorm struck central North Dakota. Flying over the state on Monday, Oct. 14, he got his first glimpse of what the storm had done.
“It was shocking,” he said the next day.
Back at his farm headquarters near Windsor in Stutsman County, Wanzek said he’s uncertain when farmers in his area will be able to get back in the field. Even with ideal conditions, it could be weeks.
“The snow wouldn’t have been such a big issue. We’ve seen snow in October before, maybe not to the extent we did, but we’ve seen it before,” he said. “But it comes on top of 30 inches of rain this summer, unbelievable amounts of rain that I’ve never seen.”
Wanzek farms with his brother, son and nephew in a large area of south-central North Dakota, where some areas received about 18 inches of snow. They’ve combined all of their wheat and rye and about two-thirds of their pinto beans.
“We haven’t harvested one acre of soybeans or one acre of corn,” Wanzek said, noting that makes up half to two-thirds of their total acres unharvested.
Along with farming, Wanzek also serves as a state senator, and his phone had been ringing constantly with constituents and farmers who serve on township boards calling about the state of their roads.
“Everybody is beginning to see a road here or there that is nearly, if not going, underwater,” he said.
That includes Wanzek himself. Heading south from Interstate 94 to his farm office, sloughs have filled with rain and melted snow, nearly covering the road. Those types of situations will make harvesting all the more difficult as roads become unusable or at least unusable for the heavy loads required during harvest.
Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, said a disaster declaration is under consideration at the state level. Several jurisdictions have declared disasters for their areas, and Nowatzki said Department of Emergency Services recovery staff will be assessing damage to public infrastructure from the snowstorm and resulting flooding for a possible presidential disaster declaration request.
Along with the situation on the roads, Wanzek said there are concerns about cash flow as farmers can’t get paid until they harvest their crops.
“I’m concerned for all of us farmers, but especially some of the younger ones or the ones who maybe aren’t as well capitalized as some of us are,” he said.
There may be additional resources made available to farmers and ranchers. Nowatzki said the state departments of Emergency Services and Agriculture are compiling agriculture impacts from the snowstorm and the heavy September rains that preceded it. That list will be used to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue a secretarial disaster declaration. If that happens, producers in any included counties would be eligible for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. Under WHIP+, USDA will provide assistance to producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. Payments from the program will take into account a producer’s crop insurance coverage and size of the loss. No one will receive more than 100% the value of their crop.
Producers are encouraged to contact their county North Dakota State University Extension agents to report damage, losses and conditions they are dealing with now. Days after the storm, agents began working on a survey to provide a snapshot of the situation.
"It's critical for producers to share information with Extension so that we can assess the current condition across the state," said Doug Goehring, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner. "Once that is determined, we will provide information to the governor to assist in consideration for a secretarial disaster declaration."
Wanzek said there are some bright points to the situation. He has heard of some price increases, including for pinto beans, as supplies are tight because of the weather. But overall, the situation is stressful as farmers and others in agriculture try to find ways to occupy their time, he said.
“You can only grease the combine so many times when it’s not being used,” he said.
Wanzek has seen the weather turn around in other years, and he’s optimistic that will happen again. At 62, he’s never left a crop in the field over the winter.
“You’ve just got to have a lot of faith and pray and hope for the best,” he said. “Some things are out of our control.”