FAIRMONT - The lack of snow this winter has made for good conversation, a rest for homeowners weary from shoveling the last several years, and easy travel. But for farmers approaching planting season, the lack of snow could mean a rough year ahead.
According to the National Weather Service, all of southern Minnesota and much of northern Iowa is under a severe drought, with central and northern Minnesota laboring under a moderate drought.
The Minnesota Climatology Working Group reports that 2011 precipitation rates were among the lowest on record, with totals in some areas between July and November at less than 3 inches.
Without piles of melting snow to replenish the dry ground this spring, things could get a little hairy for local crop producers.
"The biggest concern is the limited amount of stored soil moisture that was available after harvest last fall," says former Extension educator Kent Thiesse. "The maximum amount of stored soil moisture in the top 5 feet of soil in this area is about 10-11 inches. Most of the area has 25 percent or less of maximum capacity available. By comparison, we have been at 80 to 90 percent of capacity the past two years. We will need some rains to recharge the stored soil moisture this spring, or we could have some crop challenges if we get hot and dry next summer."
The National Weather Service is predicting the drought will continue and actually worsen through the rest of winter and early spring.
With nothing anyone can do to make it rain, Thiesse is looking at the bright side of the weather trouble.
"One advantage of the drier conditions could be an increased likelihood of earlier-than-normal spring planting," he said, "which is always a big plus for yield potential in corn."