Farmers, firefighters in RRV not yet concerned about drought possibility

The past six months have been the second-driest of that time period in the Red River Valley since the 1800s, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Forks, N.D.

Working on the seeder
Greg and Scott Stocker take advantage of warmer weather to get an air seeder ready for spring planting at their farm north of East Grand Forks Wednesday. photo by Eric Hylden/Forum News Service

The past six months have been the second-driest of that time period in the Red River Valley since the 1800s, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Forks, N.D.

While the weather service forecast this dry weather to continue throughout next week, farmers and agriculture experts from across the region say it's too early to tell if it will be dry enough to have a negative effect on crops.

"We're going into a much different production season than we have been the past few years," says Bradley Brummond, Walsh County agent for North Dakota State University Extension Service.

There is a lot less snow on the ground now than there has been in recent years, and temperatures are much warmer this year.

"I think what we're seeing here is a double-edged sword," Brummond says.


The upside is that the lack of snow and recent warm temperatures will allow farmers to get out into their fields much earlier than in recent years, Brummond says.

But the downfall is that if the weather becomes too dry, there won't be enough moisture in the soil for crops to grow throughout the season, he says.

This could particularly affect crops with a longer growing season, such as sugar beets, corn and sunflowers, Brummond says.

Still too early

But it's still "way too early" to tell if there will be a problem with dryness or drought, he says, but farmers are wary of the possibility.

"I tell people, don't let 60 degrees fool you," Brummond says.

The conditions Brummond describes are likely true throughout the Red River Valley, he says.

Matt Locken, Nelson County president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says farmers in his area aren't too worried about the possibility of dry weather.


"Personally, I don't think it's going to be a problem," he says. "Now, if the rains avoid us all summer, I'll change my tune, but for now, I'm looking at it as a positive."

The dry weather means a chance to seed crops earlier.

Farmers in Traill County feel similarly, says Kyle Olson, Traill County president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.

"The faster we warm up, the better it is for a lot of crops," Olson says, but he adds he's wary the warm weather may not stick.

"Don't hold your breath for this kind of weather for all of March," he says, because colder temperatures could still return, or there could be rain that would prevent farmers from working in their fields. "Things can turn around pretty fast."


For now, though, it looks like the weather will stay dry, says Jeff Makowski, meteorologist at the weather service office in Grand Forks.

As of March 3, the National Drought Mitigation Center drought monitor categorized most of eastern North Dakota as abnormally dry, but not yet in drought. This condition was listed for Pembina County, Walsh County and northern Nelson and Grand Forks counties.


The central and southern parts of the Red River Valley were categorized as moderate drought, including southern Nelson and Grand Forks counties and all of Steele, Traill, Cass and Richland counties.

"How much the drought develops depends on the precipitation in coming weeks and months," Makowski says.


If the weather stays dry, it won't only affect farmers, it could also lead to a higher chance of grass fires, especially in rural areas, says Fire Chief Steve Schumer, of the Manvel (N.D.) Fire Department.

"It's not an issue right now, but if we don't get moisture, it could be a big concern," Schumer says.

Fire Chief Gary Adams, of the Thompson (N.D.) Fire Department, agreed, saying his department will keep an eye out for dangerously dry weather, but for now, it's not a problem.

According to the National Weather Service's Wildland Fire Assessment System, fire danger for most of the Red River Valley was low, as of March 11. This included Pembina, Grand Forks, Steele, Traill, Cass and Richland counties.

Walsh and Nelson counties were categorized as moderate fire danger.


As of March 11, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources categorized most of northwestern Minnesota, including Polk, Red Lake, Norman, Clay and Wilkin counties as moderate fire danger.

Kittson and Marshall counties were categorized as low fire danger.

What To Read Next
Get Local