Producers in southwestern North Dakota face dry conditions

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 2:18 PM CDT
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It’s been a dry spring summer in southwestern North Dakota. After very little snow fell this winter, rains have not come either.

In Hettinger, normal rainfall for this time of year is 7.68 inches. They’ve received less than an inch so far, nearly seven inches less than normal.

Mott has recorded only an inch of rain since April.

That’s got some farmers and ranchers concerned.

Adams county rancher Kat Weinert and her husband have gotten creative grazing their 120 head of registered black Angus. They’ve sectioned their pastures off into 20 acre sections, moving the cattle every few days so grass can regrow and provide a second grazing.

"We are able to hit the same pieces twice in a growing season which has been huge this year as things have been so dry out here," explains Weinert.

Their next option is one Weinert doesn’t want to think about.

"Our first plan after this is to start selling off cows. Buying hay at this point isn’t a financially feasible decision either. No one wants to do that," she said.

But it is a reality many here are being forced to think about, while they wait for the rain that just won’t come.

"It’s not looking super great out there," said Hannah Nordby, Adams county extension agent.

North of Mott, in Hettinger county, things aren’t much better. Darrell Ottmar’s canola field north of Mott looks nice, but looks aren’t everything.

"The crop looks good to the naked eye, but when you get closer, you know it’s under stress. We haven’t had rain," said Darrell.

Ottmar has been in this situation before; he and his wife, Jan, have been farming here the 70s.

"I pray a lot. My husband complains a lot and then I pray more," said Jan.

They remember good years, and the not-so-good years. 2020 is shaping up to be one of those not-so-good years.

"We had high hopes because we had the moisture and thought once it comes out of ground it would be okay. And then the expectations of a good crop it just fizzled," said Darrell.

Other crops are suffering too. In Hettinger county, much of the wheat is just eight to 10 inches tall.

"It should be about 36 inches and it just didn’t happen. We haven’t had a decent rain since the first of January. We didn't even have snow. We just haven't had anything," said Duaine Marxen, Hettinger county extension agent.

As for this canola field, harvest is still about a month away, but the Ottmars are already thinking beyond that.

"You always look forward to next year, but one of these days there’s not going to be a next year," said Darrell.

Marxen said hay production is about half what it was last year but adds that crops like corn, soybeans and sunflower still have time to develop by tapping into moisture deeper in the ground, but they would also benefit from rains.