As Minnesota’s hottest month sets in, the Wadena area has already experienced a heat wave, critical fire conditions, small amounts of precipitation and hurt crops.
“Just a lot of rain would turn this around. But we are dry enough now groundwater is dropped probably a couple of feet in a lot of areas, lakes are down two, three feet so it’s going to take a lot of water,” said Mark Hess, Leaf River Ag agronomist. “These half inch to inch rains are greatly appreciated but … with the crop using a quarter to a third inch of … moisture a day you’re only getting three, four days out of these rains at best. It’s just going to take an awful lot of rain and cooler temperatures, these 90 degree days don’t help us a lot either.”
The following two weeks have expected highs in the low 90s though the dry conditions started last fall along with the winter’s “lack of snow,” according to Anne Oldakowski of the Wadena Soil and Wadena Conservation District.
“The lack of snow, I would say, this winter just kind of started everything and it seems like we’ve had higher temperatures, higher evaporation rates too. So even when it rains, if we have just that high levels of evaporation it’s going to go away quicker,” Oldakowski said of the hot, dry and drought conditions.
While the growing season can often be dry, the hot days are typically held off until July along with rain in April and May, as Oldakowski said. But for 2021, the area’s first heat wave came on June 3 and lasted for nine days. For the month, the state average ended five to nine degrees higher.
A touch of green arrived with rain on July 6, including the highest amounts in and south of Long Prairie. Wadena, Todd and Hubbard counties are listed as severe drought by the United States Drought Monitor, as of July 6, along with Otter Tail and Becker counties having portions of severe drought and abnormally dry conditions with the rating of moderate drought.
At the SWCD office’s rain gauge, the month of June recorded 1.51 inches of rain. The Minnesota climate office’s predictions for July include “below normal” rainfall and temperatures in the 80s. The 90-day forecast looks similar, according to Oldakowski.
“It’s obviously the dry conditions and the drought in most areas,” Hess said. “We’ve had some small areas that have gotten more rain than other areas but overall everybody is well short of moisture and it’s affecting especially dry land crops.”
The nonirrigated crops are “damaged,” according to Hess, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture rating the state’s corn condition at 42% good to excellent as of July 12. Grass and alfalfa are “extremely tight” with a topsoil moisture of 49% short and 0% surplus in the state.
“The next two weeks don’t appear to be a whole lot better either … and we’re coming into pollination on corn and that’s going to be greatly affected by the drought,” Hess said.
Without enough pasture growth, cows are also being sold and the pattern will continue if conditions don’t change, as Hess said. Pasture conditions in Minnesota were 32% poor and 38% fair.
The irrigated crops are holding on, though the amount of water isn’t to where farmers would like it. Crops are also hitting their highest water usage of a quarter to a third of an inch a day.
City of Wadena utilities superintendent Dave Evans said the conditions have not affected the electrical and water usage significantly. Electrical usage is up and watering is within the normal range.
“We’re not at capacity of our plant, we’re not short of water. We haven’t had any word from the DNR that they want mandatory from anybody, so I guess at the moment we’re just kind of cruising along like we normally do,” Evans said. “If more and more people start to water, I think we would have to do something but as of now the number that we have we’re keeping up pretty well.”
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Minnesota last had a significant drought in the 1980s and 1930s. Now, Oldakowski said river levels across the state are “way down” and there isn’t a great path out.
“That’s the hard part is crops need the water to be able to grow and produce the yield that the farmers need. We need water for drinking obviously, too, so there’s just that balance and it gets harder when there’s no rain,” Oldakowski said.
While Oldakowski said there isn’t a lot people can do, she shared the importance of being aware of how much water you’re using.
“Everytime that we’re pulling either surface water or groundwater out of the ground, we’re using it for crops, we’re using it for trying to keep yards green, we’re using it for gardens. We all accumulate that use of the water and right now we just don’t have anything that’s regenerating that water so it’s not recharging so then we start to see all the little ponds dry up and the rivers get shallow,” Oldakowski said.