Hello, dog days; goodbye, drought

MARSHALL – It may not be news to farmers with soggy fields and homeowners coping with water in their basements, but the drought is officially over.

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, the last remaining patch of the state classified as D1 Drought – Moderate, and D0 Abnormally Dry, is in the northern part of the state, almost entirely within Beltrami County.

Data for the U.S. Drought Monitor is collected to every Tuesday morning, and the drought map officially updated every Thursday morning.

“The last time you guys were all clear (no drought) was in August 2011,” said Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, referring to the southwest region of Minnesota.

According to Svoboda, drought behaves in a lot of different ways, and there are a lot of different definitions of drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor defines drought as either short term or long term. Short-term drought is defined by its effects on lawns and gardens and commercial crops.

“Long-term drought is about water supply and hydrology. Lakes and streams and soil moisture profile all the way down to the water table are the main things,” Svoboda said.

After a series of heavy rains, the regional soil profile which had been dry to a depth of six or seven feet during the worst of the drought, is now fully recharged.

“As of June 15, soil moisture levels have been close to average,” said Jeff Strock, soil scientist with the University of Minnesota’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton.

But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

“If soil conditions had been drier, we wouldn’t have gotten the pounding we’ve had,” Strock said. “With the late planting this year, shorter younger crops are getting stressed by excess water. We’ve gone from drought to excess. We’ve gotten areas which have drowned out, and we don’t know if the farmers will replant. Corn is growing by leaps and bounds, and by the time the ground is suitable to replant, the crops around will be too tall.”

That’s assuming there is any corn to plant or anyone wanted to plant it.

“Early corn is not available,” said Mike Homandberg, agronomist with Hefty Seed Co. in Marshall, “and 82-day corn would have a hard time making it before the frost.”

An option for farmers with drowned-out sections in their corn fields is to plant soybeans with a maturation time of 60 to 65 days. Hefty reports getting inquiries about the availability of early maturing seed.

Farmers are also having difficulty getting out to spray the young crops, with machinery getting stuck in the muddy fields.

What would be ideal right now would be a warm dry period, according to Terry Schmidt, regional agronomy manager for agricultural service company CHS.

“In a perfect world, we would get 10 days of warm weather to let the roots set down,” Schmidt said. “What we need for the crops to survive the dry weather that’s coming is for the roots to get down deep.”

When the soil dries out enough to support machinery, farmers may be out spraying crops and filling in patches in the corn fields with soybeans.

“We might have some decorated fields out there,” Homandberg said.