The Roundup -

North Dakota Family Continues Sharecropping


October 25, 2017 | View PDF

The Damm family has been farming sugar beets just over the border into North Dakota for more than half a century, but unlike most other farmers, the Damms do not own nor rent the land they farm.

The Damm family is, and has been for many years, sharecroppers. In a sharecropping agreement, the "landowner and the farmer share the profit from the farm", Jacklyn explained. Her husband, Jack, the youngest of ten children of Bill and Selma Damm, took over sharecropping in 1979, and has maintained the sharecropping agreement with the landowner, John Beagle of Beagle Land and Livestock.

John Beagle, Jack and Jacklyn say, maintained an excellent working relationship with the family, having been willing even to share in the risks and profits from experimental crops. In 1996, Jack proposed to rent a few acres from the Beagles to plant Kabocha squash, having acquired a contract for the squash with a Japanese market. Beagles declined, and instead shared in the risk. "It was a good rotation," Jacklyn said. "It put a lot of nitrogen back into the land." The crop proved profitable, but was too labor intensive to sustain, and the Damms turned back to beets.

Brightin Kunda, Jack and Jackie's grandson. (Photos by Jacklyn Damm)

Years later, the sharecropping agreement shifted hands to Sandi Angel, who proved to be an equally excellent business partner for the Damms. About seven years ago, they shared in the cost to install pivot irrigation to the property, and in 2015, Angel gifted Jack and Jacklyn the home that sits on the property.

The Damms currently farm about 165 acres, rotating the acreage between sugar beets and wheat. Their son Jake helps run equipment and haul beets, and their daughter Elizabeth fills in for Jacklyn by making the harvest meals on the days when Jacklyn works at the Health Department.

This season, the Damms report "above average tonnage, but the sugar is a little less than average". "Having irrigation definitely saved the crops," Jacklyn says. They had to irrigate twice as much due to the drought, which washes a lot of fertilizer out of the ground.

In all, the Damms are grateful to close out another successful harvest, and thankful for the opportunity that sharecropping affords.


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