Irrigation in North Dakota

Farm Service Agency’s 2008 Irrigated Crops Summary for North Dakota

Total acres reported under irrigation: 267,046
Total acres in fallow: 3,177
Alfalfa: 15,543 – down about 2,000 acres from 2007
Barley: 17,226 – up 5,000 acres from 2007
Dry beans (all varieties): 18,086 – same as 2007
Canola: 1,396 – up 1,100 acres from 2007
Corn (both silage and grain): 105,083 – down 9,000 acres from 2007
Mixed forage: 2,376 – about the same as 2007
Oats: 1,421 – about the same as 2007
Potatoes: 27,769 – down about 5,500 acres from 2007
Soybeans: 27,646 – up about 13,500 acres from 2007
Sugarbeets: 8,818 – down about 4,500 acres from 2007
Sunflowers: 2,195 – up about 1,300 acres from 2007
Wheat (all varieties): 32,644 – up about 14,000 acres from 2007

North Dakota Irrigation Resources

Carrington Research Extension Center

The Carrington Research Extension Center conducts research and educational programs to enhance the productivity, competitiveness, and diversity of agriculture in central North Dakota. The research effort focuses on traditional crop variety evaluation, crop production and management, alternative crop development, cropping systems, irrigation, integration of crop and livestock production, intensive cow/calf production, beef cattle feeding, feedlot management, bison nutrition, foundation seed stock production, and fostering development of new agricultural enterprises. The central location of the Carrington Center is significant in that the research program is able to address research needs that represent a significant part of agriculture in North Dakota.

Oakes Irrigation Research Site

The Oakes Irrigation Research Site was established in 1970 on approximately 20-acre tract of land 4.5 miles south of Oakes, ND and adjacent to ND State Hwy 1. The major goals of the Oakes Irrigation Research Site are encompassed in the following objectives: 

  • Provide irrigators with information that results in efficient crop production.
  • Develop and refine Best Management Practices that are producer acceptable. 
  • Provide irrigation development in North Dakota. 
  • Determine alternate and specialty crops to be grown under irrigation in North Dakota and develop agronomic practices for their successful adaptation. 

A cooperative agreement between North Dakota State University and the Garrison Diversion Conservancy District makes this research effort possible.  The University provides technical staff; Walter Albus as research agronomist, Leonard Besemann as research specialist, Heidi Eslinger as research technician and seasonal employees as needed. The Garrison Diversion Conservancy District provides most of the financial resources.  North Dakota State University faculty and staff from the departments of Soil Science, Plant Sciences, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Plant Pathology and Agricultural Experiment Station participate in conducting experiments at the site.

Northern Plains Potato Growers Research Station

The Northern Plains Potato Growers Association boasts two research farm operations.  Our traditional site is a non-irrigated farm located near Grand Forks while our irrigated research site is located near Tappen, North Dakota.

Our research committee makes need based funding determinations within our research community comprised of scientists from the Cooperative Extension Service, North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota and the United State Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

We also continue to work toward streamlining efforts with the MN Area II Research Council as well as working with our Quad State Initiative. This initiative encompasses potato researchers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Results from research are bundled into grower education programs held during summer field day events as well as winter grower educational seminars.

Nesson Valley Irrigation Research Project

The Nesson Valley Irrigation Research Project is located just east of Williston. Research at this state-of-the-art site is conducted by the Williston Research Extension Center, Eastern Agriculture Research Center in Sidney, Mont., and the United States Department of Agriculture. Researchers believe this is the perfect area to study some cutting-edge irrigation practices, because the soils are good and with Lake Sakakawea nearby, there’s an ample supply of water.

The project uses overhead linear sprinkler systems to irrigate four tracts of 40 acres. Three systems will be managed jointly by the WREC and the EARC with the fourth overseen by USDA-ARS. Some of the project’s key goals are to determine: 

  • What environmental and economic impacts this type of irrigation will have in the region?
  • What are the best ways to manage nutrients under irrigation systems?
  • What crops are best suited for the area?
  • What diseases will surface?
  • What insects and weeds will be a problem? 
  • What environmental issues will be a factor? 
  • How can fertility best be managed? 

ARS Northern Plains Agricultural Research Lab

The Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory (NPARL) in Sidney, Mont., is one of more than 120 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities in the U.S. The NPARL is made up of two research units: the Agricultural Systems Research Unit and the Pest Management Research Unit. The Agricultural Systems Research Unit (ASRU) focuses on irrigated and dryland cropping systems that will enhance soil and water quality, conserve natural resources, and reduce dependence on agrochemicals in the Upper Missouri River.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Garrison Diversion Conservancy District

Agriculture has always been a way of life in North Dakota, which is why Garrison Diversion continues to invest in agricultural initiatives throughout the state. Through funding dedicated by Garrison Diversion’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, North Dakota farmers and ranchers continue to experience growing opportunities. For several years, funds have been distributed to assist the North Dakota Irrigation Association in its mission to strengthen and expand irrigation to build and diversify North Dakota’s economy.  

The NDSU Extension Service receives funding for its irrigation specialist position, which helps enhance educational efforts focusing on irrigation and related business development. NDSU Extension’s Irrigation Research and Outreach Program receives funding to help distribute research data and results to farmers and other interested parties. Financial support is also given to the Oakes Irrigation Research Site, which is a demonstration project testing varieties of plants under different growing scenarios. The research site helps provide information, which contributes to the successful planning and operation of irrigated agriculture throughout North Dakota.

Over the years, changes in federal legislation have reduced the number of acres authorized for irrigation out of the McClusky Canal. Currently, a total of 23,700 acres are authorized. Unfortunately, only a small portion of those acres are being irrigated by individual farmers. Garrison Diversion has taken the first steps towards developing an irrigation project to utilize the authorized acres. Garrison Diversion began by canvassing landowners in the McClusky Canal service area, which includes land in McLean, Burleigh, and Sheridan counties in order to determine the amount of interest in irrigating their lands with canal waters. Because landowners have shown significant interest, representatives from Garrison Diversion will meet with the interested parties, followed by a feasibility study.