Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published May 28 2013
Recent rains a mixed bagGRAND FORKS – Widespread mid-May rains on the northern Plains helped some ag producers and hurt others.
On balance, though, the region is better off than it had been, based on what farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture are saying.
“It was a blessing. We were really dry,” says Jim Stordahl, extension agent in Polk and Clearwater counties in northwest Minnesota.
Agriculturalists in other parts of moisture-challenged Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana also welcomed the rains.
“It’s going to get our grass going. We needed it,” says Shane Kolb, a Meadow, S.D., rancher and president of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
Many area ranchers are out of hay, or nearly so, and drought-stricken pastures had produced little or no grass.
But the heavy rains were unwelcome in much of northern North Dakota, where the moisture further slowed planting. An unusually long, cold spring kept many farmers in the northern part of the state from planting in earnest until the middle of May.
“There just hadn’t been much planted” before the May rains, says Mike Johnston, who farms in Cando, N.D., in the north-central part of the state. He doubts that farmers in his area will be planting again in earnest until the final week of May, even if the weather cooperates.
Northeast North Dakota, where planting was delayed by the late spring, was hammered with rain during the week of May 19. Rains were so heavy that Cavalier, N.D., was evacuated because of concern that a nearby dam would fail.
In Walsh County, rains of 3 to 7 inches will force some fields to be replanted and may prevent some fields from being planted at all, says Brad Brummond, extension agent.
Corn is increasingly popular in Walsh County, but the rains could discourage some farmers from planting it this year. Wheat and canola could pick up acres originally intended for corn, he says.
On the other hand, “the cowboys will be happy,” because the rain will boost pasture and hay, Brummond says.
Sinking in to dry ground
North Dakota’s Cass County, received 1¾ to 3 inches of rain, says John Kringler, extension agent.
“As dry as we were, most of it was sinking in,” he says. “But I think most producers would say we’ve had enough for now.”
County farmers made rapid planting progress in the first weeks of May, he says.
Planting of wheat, barley, corn and sugar beets is mostly wrapped up, though much of the soybeans remains to be planted, he says.
Cass County traditionally is the nation’s leading soybean producer.
Recent rains in South Dakota boosted the state’s spring wheat but came too late to help many drought-damaged winter wheat fields, says Randy Englund, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission.
More rain needed
Most other area agriculturalists also say much more rain will be needed this growing season because drought exhausted their subsoil moisture.
Even after recent rains, South Dakota, much of Minnesota, southern North Dakota and southern Montana remain in drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report issued May 23.
Drought continues to be worst in central and western South Dakota and southern Montana, although recent rains reduced drought’s severity in those areas.
The Upper Midwest will see above-average precipitation in the final week of May, according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.
Though inadequate or excessive moisture is common across the region, some areas are faring well.
“We’re not too wet, not too dry. We’re in a happy medium,” says Paul Sobocinski, a farmer in Wabasso, Minn., in the southwest part of the state.
Even so, he says, farmers in his area will need timely rains during the rest of the growing season.