I'm From the Government and I'm Here to Help

Letter From the Heartland

Leo Widicker farms outside Bowdon, North Dakota. Last winter, Widicker had a quarter section—160 acres—that was badly wind-eroded from several dry summers and snowless winters during which there was no ground cover. Much of the topsoil had blown into a highway ditch. In May, a hopeful Widicker planted that quarter section in wheat.

A crew came to clear Widicker's topsoil out of the ditch and haul it three miles away. After they'd hauled forty truckloads without making a dent in the accumulation, the crew chief, a friend, asked Widicker if there weren't some closer place to dump the dirt. Widicker's wheat crop was up about four inches, so the crew chief didn't want to just blade the dirt back up onto the field.

Then Widicker remembered a little slough, about two-tenths of an acre, in the northwest corner of the quarter, right up against the highway. Nothing had ever grown there. It seemed like the perfect place to put the dirt, and he even said he'd help. He brought his tractor down that night and worked the dirt for a couple of hours, and then came back the next day to work with the crew.

Dave DeWald, with the Bismarck office of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), an arm of the USDA, had been in the area and observed the filling of the slough. The next day he talked with Widicker, telling him that he had in effect "converted" his wetland. The 1985 Food Security Act...

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