Gov. Walz, Ag Commissioner Petersen get firsthand look at drought-stricken fields

Less than 4 inches of rain has fallen here since April 1

Mike Christopherson
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, left, and Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen, right, speak at Jim and Robin Reitmeier's rural Crookston farm.

The Crookston Northwest Research and Outreach Center weather station is reporting less than 4 inches of rain since April 1. Ouch!

As they look forward to the opportunity to communicate with the USDA on just how bad the 2021 drought is for Minnesota farmers and ranchers, and hope to offer a convincing argument for federal relief, Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen got a firsthand look this past Thursday of drough-stricken crops just outside of Crookston, and a firsthand listen from the farmers growing trying to grow those crops.

Saying they wanted to do more than look at daily drought data and other numbers and statistics, Walz and Petersen walked the fields on Jim and Robin Reitmeier’s farm in rural Crookston and chatted with an audience approaching 50 people.

The visit came together in relatively rapid fashion. It was apparently supposed to take place initially on a farm near Thief River Falls, but law enforcement authorities suggested another location because they are still combing the area in search of Eric Reinbold, who’s the prime suspect in the murder of his wife. Contacted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the hopes of getting assistance in finding another farm to visit, rural Crookston/Gentilly farmer Tim Dufault said he reached out to the Reitmeiers, who agreed to host the governor and ag commissioner.

Livestock producers are struggling, too, because of a hay shortage for feed.

“(Walz) can, and has been, using his office to contact offices in the federal government that can do something to help,” Dufault told the Times. “Walz has called on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack several times to open up Conservation Reserve Program acres to haying so ranchers can feed their herds instead of selling them off at depressed prices.”

Dufault said he thinks haying and grazing on CRP land will commence after Aug. 1. Beyond that, he added, he doesn’t see “any other relief” coming from the USDA. That’s especially the case on the State level. For people like Walz and Petersen, Dufault said, it’s about getting as much quality, useful information they can, and then bringing that knowledge to the federal government and stressing the need for assistance.

“There is not a lot the State government can do to mitigate the effects of disaster for farmers and ranchers,” Dufault added.

While at the Reitmeier farm, the governor mentioned that the 2021 drought might be considered a “once in a lifetime” event. While that remains to be seen, Dufault noted that the Northwest Research and Outreach Center’s weather station is reporting less than four inches of rain since April 1.

“Ouch!” he noted.