Drought beginning to severely impact Western edge

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Western North Dakota may be used to having limited rain and precipitation, but one thing that is not as common is becoming a concerning factor for agriculture — drought.

Dickinson and the neighboring areas that surround the Western edge are beginning to feel the heat from very limited precipitation and higher temperatures than in seasons past, making production and crops a little more difficult.

“There’s a lot of different ways to look at the numbers, but since January 1 … we’ve had 2.36 inches of precipitation in Dickinson, normal is 6.90,” Corey King, a meteorologist at the Bismarck National Service, said. “We’re 4.54 inches below normal.”

For Chip Poland, the chair of the Department of Agriculture & Technical Studies and professor of agriculture at DSU, dryer weather is not the main concern, as it is typically present around the Western edge. However, the consistency of the dryer weather could lead to major problems for the agricultural society.

“Being dry in North Dakota is not unusual. We had good moisture last fall which gave us a good start to the season, but my perception is that it’s dry and we can use some timely rain,” Poland said. “Things will improve dramatically if the rains will come, but if it stays on the dry side, things could get interesting here come midsummer.


“It looks to me like we’ll have a reasonably good first cutting hay crop if the hay production at least in western North Dakota should be a little short on the first cutting,” Poland added. “But at least there will be a first cut to have. My observation would be that the second cutting is going to be contingent upon how early this first cutting comes off, and then whether we get timely rains after that. And that will be key.”

In the most recent drought outlook, part of the National Weather Service, the amount of drought that Dickinson could continue for more than a few weeks, but potentially the entire summer and could carry over to other parts of the state.

“The designation for this part of the state … (is) kind of a persistent drought persisting at least through the periods (of) June 18 through Sept. 30,” King said. "It’s kind of looking at the possibility of drought persisting in the West and maybe even seeing that drought working its way into the central part of the state as well.”

Poland stated that while the hay crops may be somewhat affected by the drought, the main victims will be the pasture plants that highly depend on balanced temperatures and having enough precipitation to grow.

“The one thing that is going to be of concern is not so much the annual crops that are in the ground … and not so much the hay crop, but those pastures, as things dry up, and as those plants begin to slow down their growth rates, making sure that we don’t overuse that pasture resource, it’s going to be key to future production,” he said. “Keeping a good eye on pastures and not letting them get overused, will be key to if it does rain our ability to capture that moisture and be able to green up and continue to grow. So often we get so worried about looking at the hay crop or looking at the other crops that are out there, we sort of forget about where the cows are and what they’re grazing. That’s something that people may want to keep their thumb on as we go into the summer.”

Fortunately, the time there is still time for the recovery of food and hay crops with this year still being in the month of June, going into the early stages of summer.

“It’s going to be spotty and it’s going to be dependent upon if it continues to be spotty rain, that you're under the rain shower just watching it,” Poland said. “But that is typical for western North Dakota, that’s not abnormal, and you're just hoping that the good Lord spreads things out so everybody gets a little bit of moisture.”

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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