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Cattle graze in Morton County, N.D., on June 20, 2017. Pastures in western North Dakota are showing the effects of a spreading and worsening drought. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Drought worsens in Dakotas, Montana

BISMARCK, N.D. — Parts of North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota now are considered in extreme drought.

Extreme drought is the second worst category of drought after exceptional drought on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The June 20 U.S. Drought Monitor, released June 22, showed 7.73 percent of North Dakota, 6.37 percent of Montana and 2.07 percent of South Dakota in extreme drought. Those are the only spots of extreme drought throughout the country.

North Dakota also has 32.17 percent of its land in severe drought, 27.44 percent in moderate drought and 32.64 percent considered abnormally dry. Montana has 5.97 percent severe drought, 14.77 percent in moderate drought and 16.58 percent abnormally dry. South Dakota has 18.22 percent severe drought, 30.98 percent moderate drought and 32.41 percent abnormally dry.

Minnesota, however, has seen improved conditions. The June 22 release shows only 1.92 percent of Minnesota in moderate drought and 11.29 percent abnormally dry, compared to 3.02 percent and 22.88 percent, respectively, a week earlier.

The drought has spread in the Dakotas and Montana. In North Dakota, the worst conditions earlier were in the central part of the state, but the June 22 release shows drought spreading and worsening throughout western North Dakota.

Bruce Schmidt, North Dakota State University Burleigh County ag and natural resource agent, says Burleigh County and other hard-hit areas received some rain, more than 2 inches in places, but counties to the west weren't as lucky.

"The West River country, if you want to call it that, that's been hit the hardest," he says.

Montana's worst conditions remain in the northeast, while South Dakota's worst conditions remain in the north.

Schmidt says pastures and hayland so far have been impacted most by North Dakota's drought.

"The cool season grasses never received that April or May showers and because of that, we just missed out on that growing season completely," he explains.

Cattle producers have been reducing herd sizes, mostly by cutting older cows. Now some are looking at feed for the fall and winter, Schmidt says. Some went out and clipped their hay land, hoping rain would provide for a second cutting, which for some seems to be possible after the recent rains.

Schmidt says row crops in the Burleigh County area are a mixed bag. Canola is bolting and seems to be looking OK. Some soybeans had to be replanted after they didn't come up. Corn ranges from good to marginal, but the question whether it will make grain or have to be used as silage remains, Schmidt says.

Small grains are very short and are heading out, so some producers are thinking of cutting and baling it for livestock forage for themselves or to sell, Schmidt says. He cautions anyone considering making that move to test for nitrates, particularly if the crop was fertilized.

"Make sure you do a nitrate test," he says. "Find out what's in there."

For more resources and advice, Schmidt says to visit the NDSU drought page at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/drought.

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