Rain needed across much of the regionby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Dry conditions are spreading across the region, damaging crops and increasing the danger of wildfires. North Dakota Governor John Hoeven is preparing to ask for a federal disaster declaration. In South Dakota, Governor Mike Rounds has already asked to have 23 counties declared a disaster area.
Conditions are better in Minnesota, but below normal rainfall is putting stress on crops, and bringing an early start to wildfire season across the northern third of the state.
Moorhead, Minn. — Roger Johnson says it's so dry in south central North Dakota, seed planted in May still hasn't sprouted. The North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner has been visiting drought affected areas of the state.
He says in some areas there's no green vegetation, and ranchers are being forced to sell cattle that no longer have food to eat or water to drink.
"A lot of these guys said it's the worst they've seen in their lifetime and they lived through the late 80's when we had a nasty, nasty drought," says Johnson. "But there's just nothing out there. The vegetation is just gone."
While central North Dakota has turned brown, crops in the eastern part of the state are in good shape, but they're drying out quickly. Johnson says rain is critical in the next few days for crops like wheat and soybeans.
The situation is much the same in South Dakota where many ranchers are also running out of feed and water for their cattle.
South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel says he doesn't think the current dry spell is as bad as a widespread drought in 2002, but he says there are some very hard hit areas, particularly the north central part of the South Dakota, where many ranchers are being forced to sell their herds.
"I know it's a challenge and unfortunately some producers won't be able to weather it and others will. The best part of it is if people do have to sell, the market is very good," says Gabriel. "It's really devastating when you have to sell out because of drought and you've got depressed prices. This year we've got pretty darn good markets, so that's truly a blessing."
Gabriel says some ranchers are trying to hang on, using tanker trucks to haul water to cattle. But he says that's expensive and time consuming. He says trucking in hay for cattle may not be feasible because of the high cost of fuel.
Conditions are somewhat less dire in Minnesota where the driest soil conditions are in the northwest and west central parts of the state, but no areas meet drought criteria.
USDA Farm Service Agency Minnesota Executive Director John Monson is watching crops carefully as he travels around the state. Monson says he's starting to see early signs of crop damage, but according the USDA crop report, most Minnesota crops are still better than average.
"I would venture to say that in most locations a timely rain is going to take us through the crop season and keep us in good shape," says Monson. "The crop condition report will be interesting to watch week by week. This week still shows us in an overall good rating for most crops. But I think week by week if we don't get rain you'll begin to see that drop off, maybe rapidly in some locations."
Rainfall has been well below average, especially in the northern third of Minnesota, where the National Ag Statistics Service lists Moorhead at 3.7 inches below normal and Hibbing 4.1 inches behind normal rainfall this summer.
The dry conditions are bringing an early start to the wildfire season.
Interagency Fire Center spokesperson Jean Bergerson in Grand Rapids says crews have been fights fires every day, and many are large enough that aircraft are needed to help put them out. She says that's more like conditions in mid August than early July.
"Certainly if we get some consistent rainfall things will green up again," says Bergerson. "If we don't and these August conditions continue and we get into August and the drought continues to get worse then we'll be looking at some pretty extreme fire danger in a month or so."
Bergerson says campers, ATV riders and people shooting off those leftover fireworks should be aware fires will start easily and spread quickly until significant rain falls across the region.
Bergerson says if conditions remain dry, burning restrictions are likely in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and other areas across northern Minnesota.
- All Things Considered, 07/05/2006, 5:19 p.m.