March 30, 2021


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

While the lack of snow this past winter has been a blessing for those people who don’t like to shovel snow, it has not been good news for McKenzie County’s farmers and ranchers who rely on that much-needed snowfall to replenish subsoil moisture and to fill stock dams.
It isn’t just the lack of this past winter’s snowfall that is a concern for the county’s ag producers. It has been the lack of moisture for all of 2020 that now has the county classified in the extreme drought category, the second worst of the four drought categories.
During 2020, the Watford City weather reporting station recorded just under seven inches of total precipitation. That compares to just over 16½ inches of moisture recorded during the 2019 growing season and a normal yearly moisture of 14.69 inches.
And with the exception of certain parts of eastern North Dakota, the dry conditions are continuing to worsen. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 28 percent of North Dakota is in the extreme drought category, while the majority of the rest of the state is classified as being in the severe drought category.
The bad news, according to the National Weather Service, is that unless there is a shift in the weather pattern that brings cooler/wetter conditions to western North Dakota, the drought conditions will persist or worsen through the spring and into summer.
And that spells bad news not only to McKenzie County’s farmers and ranchers, but the entire state’s agriculture industry.
The lack of moisture in the past 12 months is going to be a major concern for area farmers, who are getting ready to start their spring seeding, and for ranchers, who are now in the midst of their calving operations. Will farmers go into the fields and plant crops betting that they will get timely rains that will return an average or better crop? Will ranchers be forced to sell off this year’s calves and cull their herd because of the lack of pasture grass or hay?
While farmers and ranchers are some of the most optimistic people in the world, the dry conditions have to be causing them some sleepless nights.
But it isn’t just the farmers and ranchers who are concerned with the drought conditions. So are the state’s volunteer fire departments who have so far battled more wildfires in the first three months of 2021 than they did in all of 2020.
Will the rains come in April and May? Let’s all pray that they do.