Region's drought already a concern for spring planting
WORTHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's drought monitor has put southwest Minnesota -- and nearly all of southern Minnesota -- in the moderate to severe drought category, leaving farmers concerned about soil moisture as we move into the long winter season.
University of Minnesota Extension Climatologist Mark Seeley reported in his weekly WeatherTalk newsletter on Nov. 4 that some locations were reporting the least amount of rainfall ever recorded between August and October. During the three-month span, Worthington received just 1.85 inches of rain, while Lamberton clocked in at 1.3 inches and Windom was close behind at 1.28 inches of rain.
"It's significantly, drastically, dramatically dry," said U of M Extension crops specialist Liz Stahl, who works at the Extension Regional Center in Worthington. "That's a concern as we look forward to the next growing season."
Stahl said the Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Lamberton is tracking soil moisture and, as of this month, there was just three inches of moisture in the topsoil, as compared to a long-term average moisture level of 6 inches.
With winter coming and thoughts of four-foot snow banks along city streets, Stahl said farmers can't count on the snow to replenish much of what has been lost by months of dry weather.
"Roughly 10 inches of snow equals an inch of rain," she said. "That's a lot of snow to make up (the moisture loss). Ideally it would be nice to make up some moisture before the ground freezes."
The rain is needed to recharge soil moisture content to help fuel crop growth next spring. If that doesn't happen before the snow comes, Stahl said farmers will really need to rely on timely rains during the next growing season.
"It's a concerning situation for next year's crop," she added.
The lack of rain following harvest has caused farmers to delay nitrogen applications this fall, opting to wait instead until the spring.
Stahl said without the moisture, the ground isn't able to seal and hold in nitrogen. As such, it escapes through volatilization and provides no benefit to the crop, once planted.
"There are still lots of options in the spring," she explained. "The closer you can apply nitrogen to when the crop needs it, the less loss there should be.
"Making split or side-dress applications can often result in higher yields, and that is something to be looking at in our area," she added.
The 2011 growing season started off with excess soil moisture, and large rain events in late spring and early summer led to extreme variability in crop yields. Stahl said she heard reports of 180 to 200-plus bushels per acre harvested from area corn fields, with some fields producing significantly lower yields. As for soybeans, the highest reported yields were upwards of 60 bushels per acre, with numerous reports in the 30- to 40-bushel-per-acre range.