Richland & McKenzie Counties Experiencing Exceptionally Dry Year

 

An extremely dry stubble field in McKenzie County.

McKenzie and Richland Counties have experienced a particularly dry year so far, which poses several negative impacts for the 2021-growing season. 

"2020 leading into 2021 has been extremely dry. Not just in North Dakota but in quite a few states. McKenzie County is the driest it has ever been and there are huge concerns for getting crops into the ground let alone crops planted in the fall expected to germinate this spring," said Devan Leo, McKenzie County Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent.

 Currently, there is not enough moisture in the soil to germinate and sustain a seedling once it has broken through the soil surface. Leo said, "We need about 17 inches of total moisture to make up for the deficit loss throughout the summer, fall and winter. That's a lot of moisture to accumulate."


In addition to this, it is expected that there will not be enough soil moisture to sustain grass growth on the grasslands and pasture ground around McKenzie County. Stock water supply is very low - Leo heard that area ranchers' stock water ponds and dams are completely dried up. 

Leo explained, "Dams that have held water every year since they can remember, don't have a drop in them now. There hasn't been enough snowpack anywhere around to create any sort of runoff into ponds and natural waterways. Germination for spring green-up is going to be short and grasses are going to be way less dense than usual. Those turning out on spring grazing will need to be wary of germination rate. Those who typically turn out mid-April to beginning of May will need to hold off. The grass was hammered so hard through the summer and cattle were left out on forage for way too long. The grass recovery rate is going to be much slower with decreased yields compared to previous years."

Leo's best advice is to feed stockpiled hay and forages for as long as possible before turning out on normal spring grazing. As far as water goes, she recommends testing stock ponds and dams that contain water to be tested. North Dakota Extension agents are on a water-monitoring program and can test ranchers' stock water free of charge. She said, "We are expecting high levels of TDS (salts) in water this year due to evaporation leaving behind higher concentrates. Livestock will not willingly drink bad water, but if forced to, they will. If the water contains high levels of TDS, it could be very toxic to livestock."


For Richland County, the lack of moisture will also be having devastating effects on both farmland and rangeland. 

"It's difficult to say what is "abnormal" anymore. It seems that we have not had an "average" year for some time now. But this winter was pretty open, windy, and warm. That coupled with the dry fall that we had have really just exacerbated the problem," stated Tim Fine, MSU Richland County Extension Agent.  

Fine explained that Richland County was fortunate to have had some moisture the last couple of days, but it didn't amount to much and wasn't enough to increase the soil moisture. This lack of moisture is bad news for farmers. 

"Farmers unfortunately do not have a whole lot of options. Delaying planting in hopes of moisture to get crops out of the ground and possibly switching to crops that are either drought tolerant or don't need as long of a growing season are some options. But if the drought persists or gets worse there just are not a whole lot of viable options for an industry that relies so heavily on the weather and sufficient rainfall," explained Fine. 


Ranchers may have a few more options. Fine said, "They can take a look at their herd and make serious decisions on what animals to keep or cull and early weaning of calves helps reduce impacts on rangeland."

 

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