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Effects from drought will go beyond 2021

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 4:51 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Soil is blowing away in the wind and cattle are eating whatever they can get.

Nothing can grow, and what little actually can is desperately used. And now, farmers and ranchers are worried the drought impacts will continue past this year.

As ranchers try to get through 2021, they’re seeing a more difficult position for 2022.

Agriculture isn’t the industry to think in the short term. Farmers need to plan for every plot, every cow and every drop of rain.

With North Dakota experiencing its second-straight year of dry fields, it’s no longer a question of how do we get through the effects of this year, but how are farmers going to work with the effects of next year.

As Doug Hille walks around his pastures, there normally isn’t so much crunching under his feet. But like the rest of the state, his fields are suffering.

“This is very brutal. It’s very challenging. And the brutal part about it is it’s not going to go away after the first rain. It’s going to be here for a long time. Mother Nature takes a long time to heal,” said Hille.

The heat is killing the hay crop and ranchers are struggling to feed their cattle.

The drought last year took its toll on grazing pastures, and they weren’t able to recover.

This is leaving ranchers with few options for the rest of this year.

“No one around them has feed. So to buy hay, you have to go to southern South Dakota, southern Minnesota, and that’s going to be your source of hay. So then you’re trucking costs kill you on hauling up hay,” said Dr. Kevin Sedivec, Extension Rangeland Management Specialist.

Earlier this month, the state Agriculture Department announced it will be opening emergency grazing options through the Conservation Reserve Program, but that won’t be available until August.

So, while many wait for that, North Dakota is looking for water and optimism.

“It’ll get better. No other way of putting it. It’ll be better. This is as tough as we’ve seen since we’ve been here. And we’ve been here 30 years,” said Hille.

Out in the fields, it’s God’s Country. But it’s water, not manna, that ranchers need to fall from heaven.

The North Dakota wind is also kicking up a lot of the dry dirt, and that’s having detrimental effects on the health of the soil.

It could be three to four years until pastures can fully recover.

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