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Will North Dakota stay dry for spring planting?
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Will North Dakota stay dry for spring planting?

It's dry throughout the state

While this is beautiful sky in Mandan, N.D., all of ND is experiencing some level of dryness. Photo by Gail Mantz.

It remains dry throughout North Dakota.

In fact, some 7 percent of the state is in extreme drought as the state enters 2021 – just a few months to planting.

That region is located in central North Dakota, in the heart of the ag country.

Most of the rest of the state is in some category of drought, or very dry conditions, as well.

Jeff Gale, NDSU Foster County Extension agent, said parts of Foster County are in the extreme drought region.

“We needed rain in August (2020) for our soybeans but an early frost finished them anyway Sept. 8,” Gale said. Those few producers who wanted to grow cover crops or other fall forage for winter grazing were not able to due to dry conditions.

So far, only 3 inches of snow has fallen in Foster over the fall and the beginning of winter.

“Our soil moisture is low. We will need moisture for spring and summer,” he added.

Karl Hoppe said some livestock producers were taking advantage of mid-November grazing opportunities.

Tim Petry, however, said producers who had forage losses due to exceptionally dry conditions could not use the Livestock Forage Disaster program after October.

“It doesn’t matter what D3 (disaster category extreme on the US Drought Monitor), we are in (in December), the forage disaster program does not go past Oct. 15,” Petry said.

North Dakota State Climatologist Adnan Akyuz cautioned it was still early in the winter.

“We have to keep in mind that it is early, and we can expect snowfall well into April,” he said. There have been years where snow has fallen every month but July in North Dakota.

In the first week of the new year, some 59 percent of the state is in severe drought.

“Some 60 percent of the North Dakota population, which includes ag producers, are in some kind of drought as we enter the new year,” Akyuz said.

The drought started during last year’s growing season in the western region of the state.

“In expanded eastward, and by the end of the season, the counties to the east were extremely dry,” he said. “Grand Forks County had the driest fall on record.”

The soil in some of the northern tier counties has been extremely dry, including parts of Divide, Bottineau, Renville, and Burke Counties.

In fact, the Climate Prediction Center Soil Analysis ranked the soil moisture in these areas as 1 percent.

“If you have 100 years of soil moisture, and you ranked them from driest to wettest, it would fall on the top of the list,” Akyuz said.

There was not been any significant snowfall in December.

“We have been having snow drought, especially in the west,” he said. “What that means is with the lack of snow, the exposed soil absorbs more sun, which is utilized to heat up the ground even further. If there is any moisture left, it is lost to the atmosphere to evaporation.”

Drier conditions produce even drier conditions, and that is one of the reasons there is no snowfall.

“That kind of mechanism feeds itself, and the drought expands and prolongs,” he said. “It lasts longer than it normally would be.”

The eastern side of the state underwent a major climate change from a wet fall in some regions in 2019, to flooding in early spring of 2020, to dry summer and fall conditions.

“A few snowstorms, however, will put us back to normal, and as long as the snow is not melting and is staying on the soil, the eventual snow melt will help soil moisture in the spring,” Akyuz said.

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