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Dry soils in early fall

It is not a situation North Dakota growers haven’t experienced before, but it is worth watching. Soil moisture conditions are very low throughout much of the state.

A year ago the Minot region experienced its wettest September in history with 7.85 inches of rainfall recorded. In sharp contrast this past September ranks as one of the driest in history at less than one-third of an inch of rain. Combined with several days of high winds and warm temperatures, the result has been a drying out of the soil.

Low soil moisture in early fall is not particularly troubling because there are several months remaining on the calendar before next spring’s planting season, which is when moisture becomes critical to the emergence of new crops. Improvement in soil moisture can can from rain yet this fall or from snow cover this winter, provided the spring melt is cooperative and snow cover soaks into the ground rather than running off too quickly to be absorbed into the soil.

The U.S. Drought Monitor issues weekly assessments of soil moisture conditions, using a ranking system D0-D4 – abnormally dry to exceptional drought. About one-third of the state, including almost all of Ward County, was listed as being in “moderate” drought in late September according to the Drought Monitor. Areas in the northwest, north-central and south-central sections of the state were listed in “severe” drought with abnormally dry conditions over much of the remaining part of the state.

Given normal precipitation in the weeks ahead, soil moisture conditions are not likely to show much improvement for the remainder of 2020. October-December are historically very dry months with the Oct. normal at 1.16 inches of precipitation, Nov. 0.75, and Dec. 0.38. The totals include precipitation amounts from snowfall.

The U.S. Drought Monitor issues its weekly assessments every Thursday.

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