Farm Horizons, April 2013

Moisture needed still for spring planting season

By Ryan Gueningsman
Delano Herald Journal Managing Editor

A later planting season is expected in 2013 due to dry conditions, however local farmers don’t seem too concerned at this point.

The area of Minnesota’s landscape in severe to extreme drought diminished during February, dropping from 84 percent of the state’s landscape to under 70 percent, according to Mark Seeley of the University of Minnesota Extension. This modest improvement was mostly due to above normal snowfall, especially across central and northern counties in Minnesota.

Dennis Muckenhirn, who plants about 100 acres of soybeans and 100 acres of corn in Franklin Township near Delano, said this year is proving to be more “normal” than last year.

“Last year was so unusual,” Muckenhirn said. “It could be a bit cooler this time of the year than it normally is. Planting is going to be late this year because the ground is froze yet, and also because of the snow still on the ground.”

He added that moisture is needed this spring for the planing season.

“If we don’t get moisture this spring, that’s going to be tough, too,” Muckenhirn said. “It was so dry last fall.”

However, he said the moisture is needed after the ground thaws, so it can soak in.

“If we do get rain, I hope it’s after the ground is thawed out,” he said.

One potential risk of a wetter-than-normal March is the threat of flooding from snow melt, according to Seeley.

The National Weather Service recently updated its flooding outlooks, which noted with the snowfall in February, conditions have changed from below normal with the January outlooks to a normal risk of flooding for locations including:

• Montevideo on the Minnesota River

• Granite Falls on the Minnesota River

• Redwood Falls on the Redwood River

• New Ulm on the cottonwood River

• Long Prairie on the Long Prairie River

• St. Cloud on the Sauk River

• St. Cloud on the Mississippi River

Locally, the Crow River was not included in the updated forecast.

Seeley said the new climate outlooks from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center suggest that, for much of March, the Great Lakes region will see above-normal precipitation.

“This is welcome news in the context of improving our drought situation, especially if we can lose the soil frost as well so the ground is more receptive to moisture recharge,” Seeley said. “In some areas, frost depth ranges from 20 to 40 inches; this will take some time to thaw out.”

He said the agreement among various forecasting models indicates a good chance that there will be some alleviation to previous dry conditions.

“The outlooks from NOAA and other climate organizations foresee the jet stream bringing frequent weather disturbances through spring,” Seeley said. “This is likely to result in increased precipitation for Minnesota through May.”

Low soil temperatures and deeper frost depths (20-30 inches) can prevent late winter and early spring precipitation from recharging soil moisture levels, according to Seeley. This can also contribute to injury of landscape plants and crops like alfalfa.

Extension Master Gardeners have documented the detrimental effects of the cold in many areas of the state that have no snow cover. Extension’s forage specialists have noted the same for alfalfa.

Minnesota has fared better than several other states during the drought that has persisted for the past year and a half. Reductions in crop yields here were less than expected.

Seeley reiterated that above normal precipitation for the late winter and early spring likely does not mean widespread drought alleviation and a normal crop season ahead for all portions of the state.

“While there will likely be more abundant precipitation in the coming months – and flash floods are not out of the question, either – climatologists and government agencies are still concerned with low lake and river levels, declining aquifers, and the potential for early growing season irrigation needs to be high. Farmers in some areas may still consider planting crops that require less moisture.”

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