The “D” word threatening crops again


Despite early season floods, July’s U.S. Drought Monitor report shows a bit of a threat to Minnesota crops through portions of south, central and northwestern Minnesota counties.

The Drought Monitor is a joint weather project of several federal agencies that work cooperatively with states. Check out this map of Minnesota conditions.

Given the wet spring most parts of Minnesota experienced earlier, we’re not down to living rainfall-to-rainfall like stressed families living paycheck-to-paycheck. But there can be economic consequences for Minnesota farmers and for the state’s economy going forward if weather conditions interfere with crop progress and future moisture needs.

The drought report shows 82.42 percent of Minnesota land as having no drought problems at the end of July, a vast improvement from a year ago when only 37.88 percent of land had no drought stress. Currently, 17.52 percent of land is classified as “abnormally dry” and 1.71 percent of land is already classified as in “moderate drought.”

Such findings would not be cause for alarm most years. The huge Minnesota landmass north to south can have floods and droughts at the same time in different parts of the state. But we are coming off a significant drought from a year ago, and uncooperative weather this spring has Minnesota farm crops lagging behind normal growth this year.

On July 29, the Minnesota Field Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service said field inspectors found crop progress for all major Minnesota commodity crops were lagging five-year average growth. Drier than normal weather meant that 26 percent of Minnesota farmland was either short or very short of topsoil moisture, and 21 percent of the farmland subsoil moisture was now considered short or very short for proper plant growth.

The quirky growing season is reflected in data for the growing season measured from April 1 at reporting stations throughout the state. Extremes were recorded at Preston, near the Iowa border, which has had 12.35 inches of precipitation above normal; and at Warroad, on the Canadian border, which has had 4.04 inches less than normal.

The last four weeks has been especially dry in prime farm country. Cannon Falls was nearly 4 inches below normal in July, Lamberton was 3 inches short of normal, Worthington was nearly 3 inches below normal, Collegeville, Redwood Falls, Winona and Forest Lake were more than 2 inches short in July, and Crookston, Moorhead, Duluth, Breckenridge, Becker, Olivia, Willmar, Mora, Marshall, Rochester and Red Wing all reported deficits of more than an inch from normal.

Should Minnesotans be concerned? Yes, but that’s true every year when such a large part of our economy depends on weather. What justifies more concern than normal this year is that field crops are just catching up to where they should be while we are in a cool, dry spell that looks to continue well into August.