The Roundup -

Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association Happy with Court Ruling on Intake Project


August 22, 2018 | View PDF

Sugar Beets being harvested in 2017 on irrigated land near Sidney.

Kjeld Jonsson, a Savage area beet farmer and current president of the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association, is glad to forge forward following the July court ruling in favor of local farmers.

Local beet farmers found themselves reluctantly amidst a court battle that began three years ago, between the Army Corps of Engineers and Defenders of Wildlife, over a fish bypass that would determine the fate of irrigation farming in our area. The Intake Diversion weir was mandated by Congress more than 100 years ago, and brings water to a large portion of the Montana and North Dakota growing region. Defenders of Wildlife alleged that the Intake Diversion weir impedes upstream migration of the endangered fish the pallid sturgeon, and that the proposed fish bypass wasn't enough to save the fish.

After three years of fighting, and many long court sessions, District Court Judge Brian Morris finally dismissed Defenders of Wildlife's complaints to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the fish bypass, a move that essentially saved irrigation farming in the area.

The Association is "happy to have a positive resolution that gives us a chance to do what we need to do. We need to irrigate, and we need to grow sugar beets," Jonsson said.

Having to fight for the opportunity to carry on with a more than 100 year legacy was something outside of the Association's comfort zone. "The weir was one of the things Congress got right for the benefit of the community," Jonsson explained. "We got challenged from outsiders who think we need to change. There is no farmer that doesn't want to see nature preserved. We try to do what is right for the soil, and we had to defend ourselves for that. For the majority of our growers, that was frustrating. To not be able to explain the logic behind what we were doing was frustrating," Jonsson said.

Dedicated to saving the dam, many growers travelled to Great Falls to defend their farming process and to support the irrigation project. "Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project has the full support of the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association. Every time we had to make a trip to Great Falls, it was during our busy time. But we were dedicated and there to show our support," Jonsson said.

Jonsson also was thankful to the community members and local organizations and business that travelled with them to show their support. "There were a lot of people in town who are not farmers that realized the impact of not having irrigation in this valley. Richland County Economic Development and Sidney Sugars took a big role. It was great to see the support of the community, where everyone stands together to work for a positive common goal," Jonsson said.

Jonsson and other farmers are glad to finally see the end of the lawsuit, and return to farming. "This was a little out of our element. In general, farmers, we keep to ourselves. We had to be out there and be vocal, and that's not our nature," he said.


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