N.D., western Minn. face mild drought conditions
MINOT, N.D. - Troy Coons doesn't remember a spring this dry since 1988. Too little rain last fall and too little snow this winter means the veteran Donnybrook, N.D., farmer will be going into spring planting without much of a safety net. "It's ju...
MINOT, N.D. - Troy Coons doesn't remember a spring this dry since 1988.
Too little rain last fall and too little snow this winter means the veteran Donnybrook, N.D., farmer will be going into spring planting without much of a safety net.
"It's just really dry," said Coons, who farms northwest of Minot, N.D., in one of the worst pockets of regional drought.
All of North Dakota and western Minnesota are dry, according to the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Monitor, a joint effort of academics and state and national weather experts.
While it's still early, widespread moisture would be welcome, said Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist.
"We need some relief," he said.
The past 90 days have been unusually dry, particularly in the western part of the state, he said.
For instance, Dickinson received only 9 percent of its normal February precipitation, with Williston getting 66 percent of normal and Bismarck receiving 77 percent.
North Dakota on average receives 1.4 inches of precipitation in April, 2.3 inches in May and 3.2 inches in June, Akyuz said.
Because fields are short of moisture going into the growing season, crops could suffer even with normal precipitation over the next three months, he said.
Conditions will worsen if temperatures rise too fast too soon, Akyuz said.
Ground is still frozen across the state, meaning rapidly melting snow won't sink into the soil if the temperature soars, he said.
Ideally, Akyuz said, temperatures will rise slowly, allowing the ground to thaw and allowing melting snow to sink in.
Fieldwork could start by mid- to late April, depending on temperatures.
Crops don't necessarily need subsoil moisture to develop properly. But too little moisture in the ground means crops must depend on rain at just the right time, or what farmers call timely rains.
Without the safety net of adequate subsoil moisture, young crops will be hurt if timely rains don't occur or if the weather turns hot for too long, Coons said.
Moisture also is a concern for area ranchers, who are beginning spring calving.
In North Dakota, 930,000 calves were born last year. The number was 840,000 in Minnesota.
Ranchers want dry weather to help keep young and newborn calves healthy. They also want moisture to recharge fields and pastures.
"It's a double-edged sword," Mark Huseth, a McLeod rancher and president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, said of spring precipitation.
Ranchers in western North Dakota, where conditions are the driest, probably would welcome moisture whenever they can get it, he said.
Most ranchers in the Red River Valley, where it's not as dry, probably would prefer holding off on precipitation until early May, Huseth said.
Businesses that work with farmers and ranchers also are monitoring moisture conditions across the region.
"If it doesn't rain, nobody makes any money." said Al Holleman of Agassiz Seed & Supply in West Fargo and president of the North Dakota Agricultural Association.
His organization consists of agribusiness firms engaged in manufacturing, distribution and wholesaling, as well as farm supply dealers, individuals providing services and retailers of crop production inputs and services.
But it's too early to speculate about how the 2008 crop will turn out, Holleman said.
Some planting seasons begin dry, but end up with farmers receiving too much moisture, he said.
Still, Mohall, N.D., farmer Dan Witteman said he's concerned because his farm has received only one-third inch of precipitation since July.
"Prices are good. We just hope we'll have a crop," he said.