If you were ever to visit North Dakota, you would find miles of flat, dry land, and few trees. When you drive down the dusty dirt road, you will pass acres of golden wheat and sunflowers rippling in the breeze, which almost always blows. You would also start to notice how the number of crops outnumber the people living in that rural area.
One of the most prominent crops grown in North Dakota is durum, a type of wheat used to make pasta. Durum I one of the twelve different crops growing in that area.
Rodney Sjol, a farmer who specializes in durum farming, recalls his days in farming durum on the former family farm. He says, “ You can grow other stuff, but that’s what I grow.” There is irony in the fact that two of his few grandchildren are now allergic to the crop he once grew.
Sjol clearly remembers the ins and outs of durum farming. “What we did was dry land farming.” He than goes on to explain the difference between dry land farming and wet land farming. For dry land farming, “You count on Mother Nature to supply the rain when you need it and to shut it off when you need it too.” Wet land farming is using irrigation to water the crops. “It ain’t necessarily harder, just riskier. “But,” he points out, “Land ain’t as expensive when ya dry land farm.”
“Percolating” is the term that explains the process of using irrigation to water the land. Some farmers do not use the method of wet land farming because the land is not fit. “Irrigation could ruin your soil,” says Sjol. Another reason it is not always used is because there might not be a source of water nearby, and it is not possible to drill a well for the purpose of watering the crops.
The family farm was between Parshall and New Town. Although Rodney Sjol is retired, he still takes great interest in what is going on on the farm. “This year they tried growin’ them soybeans, canola, durum, barley, and he tried growing some flax,” says Sjol in response as to what the current residents of the farm were growing. This is a big difference as to what was originally grown on the farm. Sjol talked about how he only grew durum. “Well, I didn’t have livestock, and you can’t grow durum in the winter, so, yeah, I didn’t do much for farming.
He then explained the whole process. The tractor is used to till up the land and get it ready to seed. Then the farmer goes through with the seeder which is hooked up to an air grill. The air grill picks up the seeds from the seeder and shoots the seeds into the ground after it creates an air pocket for them. It is then worked into the ground. After th growing season, it is collected by a combine which separates the seeds from the stalks. Some of it is loaded into trucks and brought to a machine called the elevator, which cleans it up and brings, typically, to Minnesota were it is ground up and made into pasta.
If it is not brought directly to the elevator, it can be stored in grain bins and saved for next year’s seed.
The process of farming durum can be a lot of work, but the payoff helps, not only to make a living, but also provides food for millions of Americans.