How to start homesteading in North Dakota
Agriculture is central to life in chilly North Dakota. About 90 percent of the state’s land is used for agriculture, and 24 percent of the state’s population is employed in the agricultural sector. The state’s motto, “Strength from the Soil,” is proudly displayed on the North Dakota’s coat of arms and governor’s flag.
North Dakota’s sub-humid continental climate is perfect for raising livestock and producing small grains. The state is a top producer of dry edible beans, navy and pinto beans, canola, flaxseed, and honey.
However, large commercial farms are more prevalent in North Dakota than in other states, so it can be difficult to break into the agricultural scene for small farmers looking to strike out on their own.
Still, if you think you might find bliss in the Peace Garden State, here’s how to start homesteading in North Dakota.
Buying farmland in North Dakota
According to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of farm real estate in North Dakota was $1,750 per acre, compared to the national average of $3,160 that same year. The average cost per acre for cropland was $1,920 and $820 for pasture.
According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture Overview, North Dakota has 39.3 million acres of farmland and 26,100 farms. The average farm size is 1,506 acres.
Working farms must register as a business in the state of North Dakota. The Secretary of State’s web site provides a brief overview of the most prevalent structures administered, including Farm Corporations.
Growing crops in North Dakota
Wheat is the leading farm product in North Dakota. North Dakota grows more durum wheat — the variety used to make pasta — than any other state. North Dakota also leads the nation in the production of barley, sunflower seeds and flaxseed. North Dakota is among the leading states in the production of canola seeds, honey, navy beans, oats, pinto beans, rye, soybeans and sugar beets.
The USDA hardiness zones in North Dakota range from 3a in the north along the Canadian border to small pockets of 4b in the south. With minimum temperatures between -40 and -20 degrees Fahrenheit across North Dakota, the state can be a challenging place to grow certain crops.
Cold hardy crops and varieties will grow best in North Dakota. Crops like carrots, cabbage, radishes and leeks are biennials in North Dakota and can be sown directly with success. The North Dakota State University provides a guide to varieties of popular crops that will grow well in the state’s harsh climate.
Soils in North Dakota range from thick, black loam in the Red River Valley — which is considered some of the richest agricultural land in the world – to less productive sandy soils in the west. Farmers in North Dakota often implement no-till and conservation tillage practices.
The North Dakota state soil is Williams soils, which cover more than 2.2 million acres in the state and are often used as cropland. The soils are naturally fertile, with high organic matter content.
Raising animals in North Dakota
Beef cattle are North Dakota’s most important livestock product. There are 1.7 million beef cattle, or almost three cattle for every North Dakotan. Milk and hogs are also important livestock products in the state. North Dakota is also one of the leading producers of honey.
Livestock imported into North Dakota are generally required to have a permit and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI). The state veterinarian may require additional disease testing, treatment, vaccination, or identification if he or she has reason to believe that other health risks are present. Specific requirements for different types of livestock can be found on the North Dakota Department of Agriculture website.
Imported horses, cattle, bison, sheep, goats, swine, and cervidae from any states which have a confirmed Vesicular Stomatitis positive animal or have a quarantine in place are required to be accompanied by a pre-entry permit number prior to import into North Dakota. The permit number is to be listed on the CVI and is given to the veterinarian issuing the CVI, along with a statement that reads, “the animals on the CVI have not originated from a premises or an area under quarantine for Vesicular Stomatitis or a premises on which Vesicular Stomatitis has been diagnosed in the last 30 days; and the animals in the shipment have no signs of Vesicular Stomatitis.”
According to North Dakota Fence Law, no livestock — which includes bison, cattle, goats, horses, mules, sheep and swine — are permitted to run at large. Any owner or possessor of livestock who willfully permits the livestock to run at large through failure to maintain a lawful fence, except in grazing area, is guilty of a class B misdemeanor and is liable for damages caused by the livestock while they ran at large. There are some exceptions for damages caused by livestock in or near grazing areas, or any area designated primarily for grazing a majority of the board of county commissioners that is enclosed by a fence or other suitable means.
There are a number of livestock auctions that take place throughout the state of North Dakota, including the Rugby Livestock Auction, Bowman Auction Market, Napoleon Livestock Auction, Kist Livestock Auction, Wishek Livestock Sales, Jamestown Livestock Auction Co. and Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange.
Selling food in North Dakota
There are 25 farmers’ markets listed on the North Dakota Farmers Markets Directory website.
North Dakotan vendors who occasionally sell at farmers markets during the summer months are not required to hold a business license. If growers use a business name other than their own name, however, they should consider registering that name with the state, which costs $25 for five years.
Farmers market vendors who sell only fresh produce to be cooked or consumed at a later date do not need to apply for a sales and use tax permit. Produce vendors selling tangible personal property other than produce, such as handmade crafts, may have a sales tax collection responsibility.
North Dakota does not require anyone to purchase insurance on anything except motor vehicles, but a farmers market organizer, city or the owner of the property used for a market may ask for proof of insurance before allowing a market to operate.
Certain homemade food products — including pickles, vegetables or fruits having an equilibrium pH value of 4.6 or lower and non-temperature-controlled baked goods that do not require refrigeration — can only be sold at community and nonprofit events or farmers markets located in North Dakota. This does include craft shows, food festivals, or other for-profit events nor sales to other businesses; interstate or Internet sales or sales from one’s home or business.
The individual who is selling home-processed, home-canned and home-baked foods should have available, upon request of the regulatory authority, the product’s recipe and pH results. The seller must display a sign or placard at the point of sale which states: “These canned goods/baked goods are homemade and not subject to state inspection.”
Each food container or food item sold must include the following statement using a font that is prominent, conspicuous, and easy to read: “These food products were produced in an uninspected home kitchen where major food allergens may also have been handled and prepared, such as tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy, wheat, milk, fish, and crustacean shellfish.”
Home processors may not sell foods that require refrigeration, fresh-processed (not canned) foods that require refrigeration such as fresh salsa, pesto, etc.; foods that are home-processed or home-canned such as home-canned fish, pickled eggs and meat; any non-acidified foods processed by either the use of a boiling water bath or by the use of a home pressure cooker.
Some foods naturally have a pH of 4.6 or greater, including artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, horseradish, sweet corn, eggplant, mushrooms, peas, most peppers, potatoes, squash, spinach and vegetable soups. These foods are not allowed to be sold unless the pH of these foods is reduced to pH 4.6 or less.
Home-baked foods may include but are not limited to lefse (a traditional Scandanavian flatbread common in the state, whose population boasts an estimated 30 percent Norwegian heritage), bread, rolls, fruit pies, candies and cookies. Foods that require refrigeration include home-baked foods such as custards, custard-filled pastries, meringue-topped pies, kuchen, pumpkin pies and cream pies, are prohibited from sale.
Some locations in North Dakota do not allow prepared foods to be sold at farmers markets at all, so it is important to check with the local health department, also to determine if a permit or license is required.
Eggs may be sold directly from the producer to the consumer, either off the farm or at a farmers market. Eggs sold to consumers through institutions, or via retail must be licensed through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.
The North Dakota Department of Agriculture issues permits for the sale of eggs after inspection of premises. Eggs must be sanitized, candled, placed in new cartons and kept in a refrigerator that does not contain food products before sale. Permits to sell eggs are $10 and can be obtained by contacting the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.
Some farmers market locations do not allow eggs to be sold at farmers markets, so it is important to check with the local health department.
Farm flock eggs offered for sale must be identified with the producer’s name and address. Either blank cartons can be used or a carton with the individual farm name can be made up. All case lots of eggs must have a placard bearing the expiration date and producer’s name. The expiration date cannot exceed 23 days from the date of candling. All eggs being offered for sale must be candled. Hand candling is permissible, though all candlers require a permit.
Eggs being stored before sale must be kept in an area away from objectionable odors. The storage area must be capable of maintaining a temperature of between 33 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Egg packing materials must be cleaned and well constructed. Only clean, sound, dry flats and cartons must be used. Any carton or flat that is reused must be washed and sanitized before being reused. Transportation of all eggs to the point of sale must be done in a covered container.
Eggs must be washed either manually or with the aid of automatic cleaning equipment. The entire shell of all eggs must be submerged. After washing the egg, it should be treated with a sanitizing solution and allowed to dry before packing. Clean potable water must be used in the egg-cleaning process. When manually washing eggs, a wash vat can be used with the detergent. Eggs should not be allowed to soak in water.
Living off-grid in North Dakota
Some places in North Dakota are appealing to those interested in living off-grid. Prime among them is Hettinger, a village of about 1,200 located 155 miles south of Bismarck, North Dakota’s capital. Hettinger is surrounded by productive agricultural land, and because land prices are low, frequently less than $1,000 per acre. Hettinger area residents also pay no property taxes whatsoever.
North Dakota organizations for new farmers
- North Dakota Farmers Union
- North Plains Sustainable Ag
- North Dakota Farm Bureau
- Food of the North
- North Dakota State University Cooperative Extension
How difficult is it to start homesteading in North Dakota?
North Dakota can be a harsh, difficult place to grow crops, but the land is cheap and agriculture is central to community life. The preponderance of large, established commercial farms may make it difficult to break in, hardy farmers may still consider North Dakota for its inexpensive land and strong farming and ranching culture.