By Ryan Bakken, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Too little, too late.
That’s the short version of what Monday’s unseasonal rain meant for farmland that’s under stress from drought.
The rainfall amounted to about a 10th of an inch across the region, said Mark Ewens of the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks.
“It would take an inch to one-and-a-half inches to re-saturate the soils up here,” Ewens said.
That would be a lot to ask for December, when rainfall in this region happens only about once every 10 years, Ewens said. The rain forecast gave some hope of relief for farmers and others concerned about the drought.
Particularly hard-hit by drought are the Minnesota counties of Roseau, Clearwater and Beltrami, which are classified as being under extreme drought. That’s just one category below the most severe category of exceptional drought, which affects much of the country’s mid-section.
All of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota are experiencing some level of drought. While heavier rains Monday would have helped, they wouldn’t have been a cure.
“The drought situation doesn’t change much in our neck of the woods during the cold season,” Ewens said. “Even a foot of snow doesn’t impact the soil much because it just sits on top (of the frozen soil).”
Jim Stordahl, a University of Minnesota Extension educator serving Polk and Clearwater counties, said land east of the Red River Valley is more starved for moisture. Livestock herds were thinned because of a forage shortage and crops were down for yields and quality.
“Unless we get more precipitation by spring, there’s a strong possibility of the drought continuing next year,” he said. “The shortfall of rain is part of our grave concern. The other part is the water-holding capacity of our soils. With lighter soils, there’s less water-holding capacity.
“The valley had very good yields last year because of timely rains. But in eastern Polk, we were combining dry corn in September, which is almost unheard of. That tells me the soil just ran out of moisture.”