ST. PAUL — With the entirety of the state of Minnesota seeing some level of drought, more and more local municipalities are putting in place restrictions on fires and water use, and government agencies are rushing to save parched public lands and crippled farms.

It’s been an abnormally hot and dry summer, with a historically hot, long and dry heat wave in early June setting the tone across the state for the remainder of the summer. As of Thursday, July 20, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that there is no part of Minnesota that is adequately quenched right now. More than half of the state is seeing severe drought conditions, and 18.5% extreme drought.

USDA drought monitor. July 20, 2021.
USDA drought monitor. July 20, 2021.

Up north, raging wildfires and "very windy and very dry” conditions have prompted Forest Service officials to declare red flag warnings and fire bans, while iconic waterfalls, rivers and streams have reduced to trickles. A typically bountiful berry supply up north has also dwindled, leading hungry bears to fatten up on backyard feeders and garbage, or even tearing into property or harassing livestock.

Brainerd firefighter Nick Haglin sprays water on a wild fire on Nelson Road east of Brainerd Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildfire crews also helped extinguish the fire. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd firefighter Nick Haglin sprays water on a wild fire on Nelson Road east of Brainerd Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildfire crews also helped extinguish the fire. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

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On Monday, July 26, severe thunderstorms in northern Minnesota brought some precipitation — but also golf ball-sized hail, whipping winds, a reported tornado and serious damage to trees and properties. The state Department of Natural Resources wrote that while the rains were beneficial to some areas, “Unfortunately, these storms were quite isolated in nature, so only a small proportion of the state received any rain at all.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday, July 28, announced crop insurance payment extensions for farmers across the country experiencing drought, giving farmers 60 more days to pay premiums and fees without accruing interest.

Richard Flournoy, acting administrator for the department’s Risk Management Agency, said in Tuesday’s statement that the USDA “is using all of the tools in the toolbox to help producers amid the drought, including these crop insurance flexibilities.”

USDA this week announced a disaster in the state of Minnesota due to the drought, opening up federal financial assistance for impacted farmers and ranchers. Minnesota's congressional delegation has also requested USDA to authorize emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program enrolled lands in the state to help farmers through the disaster.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and farmer Jim Reitmeier (right) survey the dry conditions of Reitmeier's fields north of Crookston on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and farmer Jim Reitmeier (right) survey the dry conditions of Reitmeier's fields north of Crookston on Thursday, July 22, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks HeraldNick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Across the northern plains, barley producers are approaching a difficult harvest season, anxious about the quality of their crop yields, and the eventual beer it will become. In northwestern Minnesota, farmers are being forced to harvest wheat earlier, coming up short nearly a foot of rainfall from typical yearly averages.

The Minnesota sun is subdued by smoky haze from Canadian wildfires in this 2018 photo. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)
The Minnesota sun is subdued by smoky haze from Canadian wildfires in this 2018 photo. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Though it may have less green space than more rural areas of the state, the Twin Cities metro hasn’t been isolated from the drought’s impacts. On July 21, dense smoke from wildfires north of the Canadian border drifted across most of the state, including the metro, prompting the state Pollution Control Agency to issue an air quality warning. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties themselves are for the most part experiencing moderate drought, but like municipalities across the state seeing drier conditions, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have each instituted watering restrictions.