Though drought is rampant across the Upper Midwest, there are a few pockets across the region faring a little better on moisture. One of them is Sargent County, in southeastern North Dakota, which enjoyed a big rain early this month but more recently suffered a cold, snowy stretch.
"We're still waiting for fields to dry out," said Melissa Seykora, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Sargent County.
Parts of her county received 2-3 inches of rain over April 7-9, and subsequent cool conditions have keep farmers out of their fields since then. Conditions in Sargent County contrast starkly with what's happening in most of the area. Though generalizing is risky, dry conditions continue to plague most farmers and ranchers.
Even so, and despite cold, snowy weather in mid-April that delayed planting in some areas, farmers overall have made planting progress, according to the most recent crop progress report released April 19 by the National Agricultural Statistics Report, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Early planted crops generally fare better than ones planted later, so the region's planting pace is watched closely.
Planting pace varies
The report, which reflected conditions on April 18, found that, on balance, farmers in Iowa, Montana and South Dakota made more progress than their counterparts in North Dakota and Minnesota. That reflects cold, snowy conditions in mid-April in the latter two states, which hampered progress but generally brought too little moisture to be of much use.
In the week ending April 18, according to the report, Minnesota farmers enjoyed just 2.5 days suitable for fieldwork, with North Dakota registering just 2.7 suitable days for fieldwork. In contrast, Iowa had 4.7 suitable days, Montana 5 suitable days and South Dakota 4.6 days.
Farmers in Sargent County haven't made as much progress as they'd like. On one hand, farmers there grow some small grains, which generally were planted before the early April precipitation, Seykora said.
But corn and soybeans are the county's primary crops, and the cold, snowy weather in mid-April — on top of the early April precipitation — has kept farmers out of fields to plant them. Though the mid-April snow didn't produce enough moisture to recharge fields, it prevented the early April moisture from drying, Seykora said.
Though rated abnormally dry before the early April precipitation, Sargent County wasn't in the full-blown drought found elsewhere in the region, particularly in western and central North Dakota. So the early April moisture raised hopes that crops, once in the ground, could get off to a good start in Sargent County.
Now, "We'd really like to dry out and get back into the fields," Seykora said.
Here's a look at planting progress across the region. All numbers are for April 18
Minnesota — 10% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 8%.
Montana — 15% was planted, up from the five-year average of 12%.
North Dakota — 13% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 5%.
South Dakota — 46% was planted, up from the five-year average of 26%.
Iowa — 66% was planted, up from the five-year average of 46%.
Minnesota — 29% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 26%.
North Dakota — 4% was planted, the same as the five-year average.
South Dakota — 41% was planted, up from the five-year average of 25%.
Minnesota — 6% of the crop was planted, up from the five-year average of 5%.
Montana — 21% was in the ground, up from the five-year average of 14%.
North Dakota — 8% was planted, up from the five-year average of 3%.
North Dakota — 8% of the crop was planted, down from the five-year average of 9%.
Minnesota — Just 1% of the crop was in the ground, down sharply from the five-year average of 16%.
Almost no soybeans were planted. The exception is Iowa, where 1% percent of the crop is in the ground, the same as the five-year average.
Minnesota — 3% is planted, down from the five-year average of 4%.
North Dakota — 3% is planted, compared with the five-year average of 0%.
South Dakota — 1% is planted, the same as the five-year average.
Iowa — 4% is in the ground, down from the five-year average of 5%.