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Published November 12, 2012, 10:20 AM

Watching the water

The deepening drought is not just a concern for farmers — it’s a concern for all Minnesotans and anyone who cares about the Minnesota economy.

By: Dave Frederickson, Agweek

ST. PAUL — The deepening drought is not just a concern for farmers — it’s a concern for all Minnesotans and anyone who cares about the Minnesota economy.

Minnesota’s agriculture and food sector generates nearly $75 billion in total economic activity for the state, and the sector has a total employment impact of more than 340,000 jobs. Anything that hurts the state’s agricultural production puts those economic benefits at risk.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is working with partner agencies to provide farmers with information about helpful programs, resources and information on its drought website at www.mda.state.mn.us/drought. The site has information about crop and weather conditions, as well as federal and state resources that can help farmers deal with the effects of those conditions. We will continue to update the site to make sure it includes the best information to help Minnesota farmers dealing with this situation.

Water supply

We also are working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to make sure that farmers, lawn and garden centers, plant nursery managers and other landowners are aware of the growing concerns about water availability for 2013.

We are encouraging Minnesota farmers to take into account the possibility of drought as they make business and cropping plans for 2013.

Specific recommendations for lessening drought impacts will vary from one farm to the next, but here are four general tips Minnesota farmers can take to ensure they are as prepared as possible.

•Consider installing a drainage water management plan and structures this fall to capture rainfall and snowmelt. While drainage systems are designed to move excess water off cropland, a properly designed managed system also can help retain moisture. Farmers can start the planning process by talking with contractors, suppliers and their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office.

•Consider additional conservation practices, such as leaving old fence rows and field wind breaks intact to reduce wind erosion that might be a bigger problem during dry conditions. Reduced tillage, no-till and other tillage options can be good strategies to conserve soil moisture and reduce wind erosion.

•Carefully weigh the prospects of continued dry weather when planning what, where and how to plant in 2013. As always, crop advisers and seed dealers can help farmers weigh their options.

•Farmers with irrigated acres may consider tools for managing water as efficiently as possible. This may include water distribution uniformity checks, irrigation scheduling tools and low pressure conversions.

We have several months to go before anyone plants crops for 2013, and plenty of things still can happen. As we know, weather patterns can shift dramatically in Minnesota. We will hope for generous rain and snow between now and springtime, but out of prudence, we must be prepared for the alternative.

Editor’s Note: Frederickson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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