Do You Like Spaghetti?

Linda Burton posting from Bismarck, North Dakota – Wherever you are, if you are eating spaghetti, you are likely eating something from North Dakota. That’s because spaghetti is made from durum wheat, and more than 70% of the durum wheat grown in the US is grown in North Dakota. That may not be all of North Dakota that is sitting in your pantry. More than 90% of all US flaxseed is grown in North Dakota, and more than 80% of all canola. Those last two may be on your shelf in the form of edible oil (did you know “canola” stands for Canadian oil, low acid?); both have more uses than you can shake a stick at – oils and nutritional supplements for consumption by humans and by livestock; biodiesel fuel; as an ingredient in wood-finishing products. Various parts of the plants are used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets, hair gels, cloth, rope and soap!

Back to that durum wheat, it’s a favorite for pasta-making because of its high protein content and gluten strength; pasta made from durum is firm with consistent cooking quality. And its yellow endosperm gives pasta that lovely golden hue. I admired mind-boggling stretches of “golden” crops on my drive towards Bismarck last Friday. Half the sunflowers in the US grow around here; another multi-use plant, tall and happy-faced. The bugs on my windshield attested to the lushness of the fields.

Agriculture is top of the list with regard to the state’s economy, as you might guess from what you see. How much farmland does it takes to achieve such high numbers, I wondered; and what there is about this farmland that makes it so productive? According to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, there are over 30,000 family farms and ranches in the state; the average farm is 1,300 acres. Statewide, farmland takes up more than 39 million acres, almost 90% of North Dakota’s land.

The state’s motto is “Strength from Soil” and soil is the basic component of this agricultural success. The soil in the Red River Valley to the east is the richest in the state; a thick black loam; as you go west the soil becomes more porous and sandy. But North Dakota farmers are experts in no-tillage and reduced-tillage practices that help to keep the soil productive.

Climate is a factor too; it’s defined as sub-humid continental, excellent for the production of small grains. That means long warm days and not too much rain. But enough. Keeping tabs on the weather and making adjustments as needed is a critical factor in assuring a good crop. There is a historical US Department of Agriculture Weather Station on Main Avenue in downtown Bismarck, a reminder of the importance of weather information; today the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN) has 72 stations scattered across the state.

Every farmer can go online to check the air and soil temperature, wind direction, wind chill, relative humidity, dew point, and rainfall potential; each station tracks weather conditions in a 20-mile radius. Stations provide hourly averages, or totals for all variables, plus daily summaries consisting of maximum and minimum air temperature, maximum wind speed, and times of occurrence; there are archived data areas that may be retrieved as well.

NDAWN is operated by a Department of Soil Science team at North Dakota State University; the North Dakota State Climatologist Office is part of the team; programmers from the US Department of Agriculture assist too. NDAWN is funded by gifts and grants from federal and state agencies, organizations, clubs, businesses, and individuals.

All this effort so we can enjoy spaghetti? Good job on all fronts, I say. Now, about that windshield cleaner.

North Dakota Department of Agriculture