Western and central North Dakota see rain, but it's too little too late for some

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A lack of rain has affected forage production this year in North Dakota. North Dakota State University photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota has received much needed rainfall in recent weeks of a year that so far has been Bismarck's driest on record . Yet this relief hasn't been enough to undo the damage already inflicted on the state's livestock forage and some of its overall crop production.

Much of western and central North Dakota is in a moderate drought or is abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor . A few weeks ago, parts of Burleigh and Morton counties were in a severe drought.

The drought could have caused excessive damage to many of the state's crops, but because fall 2019 saw one of the wettest seasons on record and much of the moisture was locked in the soil throughout the winter, the drought's ramifications have not been as extreme as they could have been, said state climatologist Adnan Akyuz.

"The impact of droughts is not seen directly, but however it still causes losses to agriculture," Akyuz said. "It causes some social stress. It affects domestic water supply and indirectly affects energy production, public health, wildlife and contributes to wildfire."


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The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor map, from Thursday, July 9, shows much of western and central North Dakota is in a moderate drought (light brown) or is abnormally dry (yellow).

Conditions around the state vary, with some areas experiencing extremely dry climates while others are seeing water pool on their property.

The recent precipitation has benefited corn, soybeans and sunflowers because it came right at the time during the year when they are in the peak of their growth. The rainfall's timing was "very ideal" for these crops, said Miranda Meehan, North Dakota State University Extension's livestock environmental stewardship specialist.

However, the rain came too late for hay and forage production, because they rely heavily on rains that come between April 1 and July 1, Meehan said.

"There's a lot of concerns about forage availability going into fall and winter," she said. "A lot of people use up their forage over the winter, and so they didn't have a lot stockpiled .... The drought conditions are really stressing that further."

Some have had to reduce the number of livestock on their ranches, Meehan said, in fear that they won't have enough resources.

For the MacDonald Ranches near the University of Mary in Bismarck, their corn, sudangrass and grass crops have all benefited from the recent rainfall. "The rain has made all the difference in the world," said Will MacDonald, one of the ranch's operators.

Meehan said hay and forage production will yield anywhere between 30% and 60% of what is normally harvested, but the rainfall will increase the quality of the crop somewhat.


"The growing season is unfortunately very short," Akyuz said. "Since it is very short, we have to utilize every moment, and if you lose two or three months, that's a significant loss. The damage has been done. The impacts are there."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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