By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN “It’s too early to say yet,” Kevin Dahlman of Dahlco Seeds in Cokato commented recently.
He was referring to the upcoming planting season, and whether there will be enough moisture to produce a healthy crop.
“Are we dry? Yes we are. Are we going to need significant moisture? Yes we are,” he said.
The recent snowfall will help, but it doesn’t guarantee moist fields.
The National Snow & Ice Data Center reports that 10 inches of fresh snow can contain as little as .10 inches of water and as much as 4 inches of water, depending on crystal structure, wind speed, temperature, and other factors.
“Typically, the moisture we get in December through February is not as important as spring, because the ground is still frozen,” Dahlman said, adding that he’s hoping for a “wet, miserable March and April.”
Dahlman joked that he should be careful what he wishes for, however. Last August, he remembers thinking, “boy, I wish it would stop raining.”
He got more than he bargained for with that one.
After a downpour of 1.24 inches Aug. 16, 2011 in Wright County, rainfall became scarce.
From Aug. 17, 2011 through Feb. 24, 2012, the Twin Cities area only received 3.23 inches of precipitation. The average precipitation for August through February is 13.62 inches, according to Midwestern Regional Climate Center data from 1971-2000.
“It’s safe to say, it was one of the driest falls on record,” University of Minnesota Extension Educator Nathan Winter said.
Because of that, fall tillage resulted in dry, chunky fields.
“When it’s lumpy, it creates open air space in the ground, and it doesn’t work very well for germination,” McLeod County Commissioner Paul Wright said.
Wright, who has a dairy farm and 500 acres of crops near Hutchinson, said a steady, slow amount of spring rainfall would be ideal.
“If it all comes 5 inches at a time, we wouldn’t be able to utilize it,” he explained.
Extra thirsty ground
Although climate outlooks favor more rain than normal this spring, it might not be enough.
“Many areas are so deficient in stored soil moisture they will need 150 to 200 percent of normal rainfall during March and April to make up the difference,” climatologist Mark Seeley stated in mid-February.
The odds of getting this amount of rain (about 6 to 8 inches) during those two months is only about 1 in 5, however.
As of Feb. 21, the US Drought Monitor classified the majority of Minnesota as having “moderate” drought conditions.
In the southern part of the state, the drought is considered “severe.”
Working with weather
Dan Moe, who has an organic produce farm between Dassel and Hutchinson, is considering a second well with water distribution piping as an additional irrigation source for his fields.
“It would be nice if we had a consistent rain system,” he said.
Currently, Moe plants about 15 acres of produce, and rents the remaining 95 tillable acres of his property to traditional farmers.
“Strawberries are my signature crop,” he said, adding that he also grows raspberries, elderberries, and 57 varieties of vegetables.
Like all farmers, Moe has learned to adjust to varying weather conditions.
During the abundantly moist spring of 2011, for example, he germinated his produce in the farm’s 500-square-foot greenhouse, and planted in a field with plenty of drainage.
Insurance is another way farmers lessen their risks.
“Crop insurance takes the worry out of it,” said Greg Bakeberg, who farms near Howard Lake.
With about 40 years of experience, Bakeberg has been through almost every possible weather scenario.
“We’ve had winters like this before,” he said. “If we get enough rainfall this spring, we’ll be OK.”
Bakeberg has a “go with the flow” attitude when it comes to the weather.
“It takes care of itself,” he said. “Somebody else upstairs is in charge, anyhow.”
Dahlman expressed a similar viewpoint, explaining that this spring could turn out excessively dry, sopping wet, or perfectly in-between.
“We worry about things we can control, and rain isn’t one of them,” he said. “It can turn real fast. If we get one 4-inch rain around Easter, that can carry us a long way.”