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Southwestern North Dakota is in the middle of a moderate drought.

Those conditions, although not as drastic as in other parts of the state, still have a big impact on the agriculture and livestock in both Bowman and Slope counties, according to the NDSU extension agents.

The shortfall in precipitation has included Bowman and Slope counties, according to Shelby Hewson, the NDSU extension specialist in Amidon.

She also noted that recent thunderstorms have brought some precipitation to the area, but have yet to erase the impact to local crops.

“We are still listed in the D1 which is moderate drought,” she said. “Crops and pastures are stressed. Water is stressed. Farmers are encouraged to have a drought plan. The fire danger increases and grasshopper infestation occurs.

“The pond and creek waters are starting to decline,” she said. “That is why we are doing so much water sampling.”

A problem some are facing is the possibility of blue-green algae blooms in local bodies of water, Hewson added. “The blooms could cause death to the livestock. We haven’t seen anything yet.”

That also means that the local ranchers still have to be aware of the threat and on the lookout for the algae, she added.

In addition, people are trying to get their haying done before it dries up any more, Hewson said. “The grazing has been impacted and the grasses are a lot drier. People are trying to get those bales wrapped up as quick as possible, while there is still some green left to it.”

It has definitely been less spring rain than normal, she added.

Bowman moderately dry

According to Max Robison, the NDSU Extension Service agent for Bowman County, even the moderately dry conditions are causing problems.

“On a local scale, we have been drying up. It has raised a lot of concerns with water quality for livestock as far as stock dams and streams go,” he explained.

The possibility of algae outbreaks is something the agents are concerned about. “We are asked to come out and a producer asks us to test water for them.  We tell them (producers) to keep an eye out for it. The producers are usually responsible for reporting that kind of thing or they will let us know.

“This year, with everything that has gone on and the continued push for social distancing, it has changed.

“In a typical year, we go out test water and visit with producers. This year, for everyone’s safety, we follow along with the precautions that are being taken (wearing masks and social distancing). More and more, the producers are just dropping off their water samples at our offices or telling us the location... meeting us at a spot and we’ll just follow them out there,” Robinson explained. “Then we can get out and take water samples, then evaluate what is going on.”

There has been an increase in the Bowman County office handling water tests in 2020, the agent said.

“There has been an extreme shift from last year’s wet weather. This year, it was really dry in May and June. A lot of those dams and other water sources that are not flowing went downhill quite rapidly,” Robison explained.

“Producers are seeing some impact on livestock and they are wanting to take as many precautions as they can to make sure that they won’t have any negative impacts.”

According to Robison, there is concern about the wheat crops in the county. “With the lack of moisture, there is some that have stunted off pretty bad. It doesn’t have the moisture to do really well.

“There are quite a few variables. Planting date plays a role... and what crop was there the previous year,” he said. “That plays a role in how the current crop is doing.”

Weather has had an impact locally for several years, he explained. “In wheat, they were not able to harvest last fall. There is disease issues and sprout, wheat that wasn’t harvested last fall that was still standing this spring.

“Depending how that was handled and managed, that created issues for the crop this year.

“It is hard to get a really good chemical kill on those sprouted grains or the grains that were left that set seed again,” he said. “There is so much crop debris out there. If it was tilled under, you’ll have some wheat trying to grow back in there.

“If you followed it with sunflowers or legumes, you could spray chemicals to try to kill any volunteer weed that was coming up that would disrupt the current crop,” the extension agent explained.

“I’ve heard a lot of the fields that were wheat last year, that they have come back in with a different crop,” Robison said. Canadian Thistle is also proving to be a problem for local growers. “There was enough crop debris to protect those Canadian Thistle seed so they started growing.

“It looks like almost all of the producers in our area have done a really good job of getting after that Canadian Thistle problem,” he said.

Earlier this spring, standing wheat crops were burned off, Robison said. That was done to get rid of the crop and create a better environment for the new crops, he explained.

“The guys who were able to get a good proper burn and get rid of the residue from last year … I think they were able to start the year off better with their crops. It would negatively impact the soil to some extent, but they were able to get that crop off and get the new one put in with fewer setbacks,” he said.

Last year had a negative effect for local wheat producers, Robison explained. “Especially with the cool wet winter and the early spring that we saw... that opened the plants up to some disease and fungal issues. Coming into this year, being as dry as it is, it is leaning to kind of the opposite issues. There just is not enough moisture in the soil to get the crops growing,” he said.

“That shot of rain that we had last week did have a pretty positive effect on some crops. It did help things out quite a bit.

“But the swings (in climate) are not beneficial. If we could have a nice year with really consistent rains early and the rains shut off when we needed it to, then kick back on when we wanted it to.... we’d be in great shape.

“But, it is kind of the gamble we take year to year,” he added.

The swings means local producers have to deal with one set of issues one year and a different set of issues the next, the agents said.

That means more work for the county extension agent’s office, he added. “When things are going pretty well, the farmers and producers out there who have been doing it all their lives … and been through different swings, they have a lot of tools. They know what is going on.

“Then, when stuff like this pops up, and they have a lo of questions and a lot of concerns, they’ll reach out to us,” he said. “We have a really good network of specialists that are trying to keep up with the changing environment and what is going on year-to-year.”

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