North Dakota facing continued dry conditions

Meteorologists and local ag officials review current drought conditions that may continue through the spring and summer.

drought 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

The dry conditions may continue to worsen in the region, according to Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center.

"The climate prediction center is showing no changes anywhere on the Plains for March," he said. "Even through the end of May, they are not predicting any changes in dry conditions."

The drought monitor map issued March 4 shows much of North Dakota in extreme drought with other areas in a moderate drought or abnormally dry. Those conditions are raising concerns for farmers.

"We are still optimistic we'll get some early spring rains," said Penny Nester, Kidder County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. "The ranchers will need to start planning (to cope with dry conditions) before the farmers."

Nester said pasture grasses usually start growing before crops planted in the fields and will be affected first by the absence of moisture in the soil.


"Even rain later in the year will be too late for pasture land," she said.

Farmers in Dickey County, most of which falls into the abnormally dry category on the drought monitor map, are seeing this spring as an opportunity to plant more acres that have been too wet to farm in the last few years.

"It is not super saturated like we have been the last few springs," said Brianna Kaiser, Dickey County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. "We'll have more concerns later in the summer for moisture."

Kaiser said the drier conditions are a welcome change because previously, farmers "were turning into ducks down here."

Fuchs said dry conditions are not limited to North Dakota.

"It is definitely the case through the Dakotas and even into Canada," he said. "There is widespread drought with conditions worse in the Central Plains than on the Northern Plains. The entire western United States is dealing with some level of drought other than parts of the Pacific Northwest."

And the conditions have occurred over time.

"The drought conditions built in the late summer through the fall," Fuchs said.


The limited snowfall over the winter provided less moisture for the soil but also may have contributed to a loss of the limited moisture in the soil in the fall.

"One thing a snowpack does is prevent the evaporation of moisture from the soil," Fuchs said.

While the current conditions are dry and the forecast calls for more dry weather, farmers and others are optimistic.

Nester said farmers in Kidder County will likely plant mostly corn and soybeans.

"The farmers worrying about corn emergence may be looking at small grains," she said.

Kaiser said farmers in Dickey County are cautious for now.

"Not changing planting intentions," she said. "There will be more concern later in the summer."

Alicia Harstad, Stutsman County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said the outlook for farmers depends on how the spring shapes up.


"It all depends on where you are at," she said. "If you can get in the fields at a normal time and we get timely rain you could get a pretty good crop."

But farmers are also beginning the planning process to cope with continuing drought, Harstad said.

North Dakota State University Extension is holding drought webinars every Thursday for farmers. Farmers can participate in the current webinar or view past webinars at www.

As with all weather situations, the future is never fully known.

"What happens in March, April and May will determine how the drought progresses," Fuchs said, "but we'll probably see conditions deteriorate."

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