Winter a long one, but has an upside

MARSHALL – The favorite recreation in the area for more than a month has been complaining about the weather. But there’s one group who isn’t complaining at all: farmers.

The unseasonable wet and heavy snow has been a blessed relief to soils parched by the last few years of extreme drought.

“This worked really well,” said Terry Schmidt, regional agronomy manager for the Marshall office of the agricultural services firm CHS. “None of the creeks really rose much so it has to have sunk in.”

According to Schmidt, the soil was so dry that it didn’t really freeze hard this winter, which was mild temperature-wise by Minnesota standards. Melting snow is seeping into the ground and will probably thaw the subsurface frost quite rapidly, he said.

Schmidt said he expects farmers will be able to start tillage at the beginning of next week if there are a few days of 70 degree temperatures as forecast – just enough to dry the ground to where it will support heavy equipment.

“We’ve got enough moisture to get us into June or July,” Schmidt said. “Hopefully after that we’ll have some rain.”

There is an added benefit to the recent weather system, too, according to Bruce Potter, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Minnesota’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton.

Although the winter hasn’t been harsh enough to suppress native cold-hardy crop pests, neither have we had the weather systems that bring rust spores and insects up from the south.

“We have two scenarios,” Potter said. “We have some insects that winter here: soybean aphids, soybean cyst nematodes, and a lot of the root rot, stalk rot and some of the leaf diseases. The winter probably didn’t do much. The other is the diseases and insects that winter in Oklahoma and migrate up. We haven’t had a winter season that brings them up.”

Rust spores tend to migrate up the central midwest corridor and rain down on the front edge of thunderstorms, according to Potter. Adult insects whose larvae infest the root systems of crops, tend to ride air currents above 1,000 feet and can come from as far south as Mexico, sometimes within the space or a day.

Pests such as the Aster lear hoper came last year in what Potter refers to as “Biblical amounts,” infecting small grains, potatoes, canola, and wiped out the garlic industry in the state.

“We haven’t had the warm southerly systems and rain storms this year,” Potter said.

Though the area is still considered to be in a state of “severe drought” by the National Weather Service, conditions have improved.

The NWS classifies drought as: moderate, severe, extreme, and exceptional. As of April 16 the NWS downgraded area drought conditions from extreme to severe.

According to the U.S. drought monitor the southwest corner of the state continues to be one of the driest parts of Minnesota.

“The drought is not over by any means,” said Shawn Devinny, meteorologist with the NWS office in Chanhassen. “The area still shows severe drought, but the precipitation has helped things. As recently as three months ago one-fourth of the state was in extreme drought, and now none (is).”