Arid conditions no cause for alarm

MARSHALL – Though the U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the state in “unusually dry” conditions and two patches in the northwest and northeast listed as “moderate drought,” there is no cause for alarm, according to agriculture experts.

The two-year drought was officially over by the end of June, and plentiful rains at the beginning of summer restored the soil moisture profile enough to give area farmers a margin of safety. During the most recent dry spell, cool temperatures have meant low evaporation rates. But returning heat has increased moisture demand on crops.

“Summer is back, but the rains aren’t,” said Department of Natural Resources state climatologist Greg Spaden. “Mother Nature has turned off the faucet since the fourth week of June. We’re at the start of a drought situation, but that could change with rains.”

The University of Minnesota’s Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton collects soil moisture data on the first and 15th of the month from April to November. Latest figures from SWROC show a current soil moisture level of 3.6 inches, or 0.68 inches below the historical average of 4.61 inches.

“You can make that up in one rain,” said SWROC soil scientist Jeff Strock. “We have not had extreme heat and extreme wind that causes crops to use more water through transpiration. If we don’t get an early frost, it’s going to be good.”

The corn has already been made, according to Strock, and the soybean crop is usually made in August. While a late planting this year means later overall maturation, nothing is likely to have extreme effects this close to harvest.

“Crops are looking good,” said Terry Schmidt, agronomy manager with the Marshall office of agricultural service company CHS. “Be nice to have some rain, but it’s not the end of the world.”

According to Schmidt, this year’s harvest should be 10 days to two weeks later than last year, around the end of September.

“If it stays dry, we’ll lose out on yield of corn and beans but nothing catastrophic,” Schmidt said.