Dry conditions slowing crop growth

Dry fields
Some area fields that were too wet to harvest last fall and into the spring are now drying up rapidly due to a lack of moisture. John M. Steiner / The Sun

The majority of North Dakota farmland is short on moisture as the summer continues, according to Daryl Ritchison, director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network.

"If I had to draw a line on map it would be close to (U.S. Highway) 281," he said. "The western two-thirds of North Dakota is generally quite dry and even in the east there are some dry spots."

The National Weather Service report for Jamestown puts the amount of precipitation for Jamestown since the first of the year nearly 5 inches below normal at 3.35 inches of moisture. Normal, as of June 26, would be 8.2 inches.

Ritchison said the bulk of summer moisture in North Dakota comes in May and June with July and August tending to be warm and dry. This year, May and June were much drier than normal in many areas. The extended forecasts for July and August are for more normal conditions of warm and dry.

Wet conditions last fall created surplus moisture going into the spring although most of that has evaporated from the topsoil, according to Mike Ostlie, agronomist at the Carrington Extension Research Center.


"We're short of water and the crops are showing it," he said.

Ostlie said the excess moisture during planting and germination meant the plants didn't have to look hard to find needed moisture at that time.

"Then the wind and hot weather dried up the topsoil," he said. "The crops weren't ready to go after the moisture."

Subsoil moisture remains adequate but the crops will have to develop deeper roots to go after it.

"The soybeans are mostly looking good now and the corn is looking good but hasn't reached its peak water use," Ostlie said. "Where it is showing most is in the cereal crops."

Ritchison said the coming week could bring widespread rain and locally heavy thunderstorm activity to the region.

"Next week is a brief change in the weather pattern," he said. "There will be a pattern of thunderstorms but there will be spots that are missed."

That weather system could be "make-or-break" for some farmers, Ritchison said.


"It looks like a dry pattern after that," he said.

Ostlie said a single rain or even a brief series of precipitation events won't solve the longterm problem of dry conditions.

"If we're running at a deficit a good shot of rain would stabilize things," he said, "but not likely be enough to build any reserves for the rest of the summer."

Dry wetland near field
A small temporary wetland, near cropland, is dry with the soil cracking due to lack of moisture as seen Friday, June 26, 2020, south of Jamestown. John M. Steiner / The Sun

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