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Daryl Ritchison, interim director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network and NDSU extension service meteorologist, addresses attendees of the 2016 Prairie Grains conference on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)

2017 weather outlook: slightly cooler, drier

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Daryl Ritchison didn't expect drought in 2016 in North Dakota. He was right. In fact, generally favorable growing conditions allowed many farmers to enjoy record yields.

Ritchison, interim director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, doesn't expect drought in 2017 either. But he does anticipate the next growing season will be slightly drier and cooler than average.

Ritchison spoke Dec. 8 at the 2016 Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks, N.D. The annual two-day event, which began Dec. 7 at the Alerus Center, normally draws about 900 people. It crosses state and commodity lines and is considered by some to be the unofficial start of the region's winter ag meeting season.

Roughly 500 people were estimated to attend this year's event. A winter storm that hammered the area held down attendance.

Many of those who did attend on Dec. 8 rose unusually early and braved difficult driving conditions to make the trip, said David Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, one of eight organizations that sponsored the event.

"They're very dedicated," he said of people who attended.

The other sponsoring organizations were the North Dakota Barley Council, Minnesota Barley Council, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Northland Community & Technical College, Minnesota Farm Bureau and the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

The conference covered many ag and ag-related topics, ranging from water management to nutrient needs for crops. The advance look at the coming year's weather is considered a highlight of the annual event.

Ritchison's predictions for the 2017 crop season include:

• A cooler and wetter spring, which would delay the start of planting. "I doubt many farmers will be out on April 5 next year."

• A summer with an average temperature that will be 0.5 degrees warmer than average to 1 degree cooler than average.

• A summer with 80 percent to 110 percent of average rainfall.

• 200 to 250 fewer growing degree days than in 2016. Growing degree days are a measure of heat accumulation that influence crop development.

"You had more sunshine last summer than in most summers," he said. "Next year probably will be cloudier."

"So next summer not only will we probably be a smidge cooler, we'll probably be a smidge cloudier," he said. "So we'll have slightly less solar radiation by 2 or 3 percent, which also will be an impact, probably, on yields."

But his forecast is subject to change, as new information becomes available.

"I can change my mind," he said. "I want my last forecast to be my best forecast."

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