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Recent rains won't end the drought but 'it is looking a little better around here'

The U.S. Drought Monitor didn't improve much this week, even though much of the drought-stricken areas of the Northern Plains received heavy rain. StormTRACKER meteorologist John Wheeler explains why that is and what's coming next in the weather.

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Even after recent heavy rains across much of the Northern Plains, the U.S. Drought Monitor didn't change much this week.

But those rains, as nice as they were, didn't do much to the deep soil profile. Some parts of the region are a foot of rain behind average for last 12 months, explained StormTRACKER meteorologist John Wheeler. Three or four inches of rain can't catch that up.

"All that has really been affected by recent rainfall is the topsoil moisture," Wheeler said.

Still, it was a positive step in a summer devoid of many widespread rain events, and combined with cooler temperatures at least ensured that the region didn't move backwards. Plus, Wheeler said, soil moisture did improve in some places from being in the first percentile to being in about the fifth percentile — still very low, but better.

"The drought is not over. But for the time being, it is looking a little better around here," he said.


The recent rains will not save crops or pastures, and many cattle producers will keep dealing with the impacts of the drought. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring announced on Thursday that the North Dakota Emergency Commission has approved $2.5 million to reactive the Emergency Feed Transportation Assistance Program. The program will help reimburse a portion of hay transportation expenses for eligible livestock producers who lost feed supplies due to the drought.

The Emergency Commission consists of Burgum as chair, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer. The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the program, with Delzer absent.

The $2.5 million emergency grant program will be limited to livestock owners who have verifiable feed losses due to drought conditions and must purchase and transport supplemental feed between April 8 and Nov. 30, 2021. Assistance will be provided for a portion of feed transportation costs, which will be reviewed and approved based on standard trucking rates. Producers must provide verifiable records of livestock inventories and hay transportation expenses.

Funding for the program is provided through the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, which will borrow the $2.5 million from the Bank of North Dakota. A similar request was approved in 2019 for $250,000 for the Emergency Feed Transportation Assistance Program when much of the state was dealing with uncharacteristically wet conditions.

Producers seeking more information about the program may email haytransport@nd.gov or call 1-844-642-4752. Applications will be available on the Department of Agriculture’s website at www.nd.gov/ndda in mid-September and will close Dec. 15, 2021.

Wheeler said more unsettled weather that could lead to precipitation is expected in the next week or two, which, combined with cooler temperatures, could provide slow relief to drought conditions.

Here's a state-by-state look at this week's U.S. Drought Monitor:

Iowa: Heavy rains in some parts of Iowa led to improvements in the percentage of the state in extreme and severe drought. However, the percentage of the state not considered in any drought condition dropped from 21.06% to 17.37%


Minnesota: While exceptional drought in Minnesota did not spread, extreme drought did expand significantly, from 41.7% to 49.58%. The state continues to experience problems with wildfire, including one that closed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, and with streamflow in rivers.

Montana: Heavy rains in some parts of Montana helped keep conditions from worsening across the state. The drought monitor made no changes to Montana, where 98.7% of the state is in severe drought or worse.

Nebraska: While parts of southwest Nebraska received heavy rain, agricultural drought impacts expanded in areas of the southwest and northeast that did not receive precipitation. Extreme drought increased from 1.78% to 2.15% and severe drought increased from 7.71% to 10.64%.

North Dakota: Though precipitation deficits remain, North Dakota did see some improvements in drought conditions due to heavy rain. Exceptional drought shrunk from 15.69% to 13.38%. However, 99.74% of the state remains in severe drought or worse, an improvement of only 0.03% since last week.

South Dakota: Rain mostly kept South Dakota's drought situation steady in the past week. Extreme drought decreased from 27.69% to 26.37%, while severe drought crept up from 46.28% to 47.72%.

Wisconsin: Drought remains less of a problem in Wisconsin than in other parts of the region. However, moderate drought did expand from 16.49% to 21.64%.

Jenny Schlecht is the editor of Agweek and Sugarbeet Grower Magazine. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at jschlecht@agweek.com or 701-595-0425.
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