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Thirsty crops need more than a shower

Jeff Caldwell 05/24/2012 @ 1:14pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

From Plains wheat country to the eastern Corn Belt, there's a lot riding on rainfall chances this weekend.

The last several weeks have seen just fractions of normal rainfall in the nation's midsection, leading to both growing shortages of soil moisture and declining crop conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows how rapidly the dry conditions are spreading; As of Tuesday, virtually all of Iowa, Minnesota and Kansas ranges from abnormally dry to moderate drought, with about half of Missouri and Illinois under similar conditions.

"Drought conditions expanded considerably across the Midwest, northern Delta and central Plains, with dry conditions now being noted in north-central Kansas, eastern Oklahoma, much of Arkansas, southern Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota," says MDA EarthSat Weather senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney.

The good news is the chances of rain over the Memorial Day weekend are greater than they were just a couple of days ago. Though it will offer a brief reprieve from the drought in some of the hardest-hit areas, the trend won't last long, Keeney says.

"Rainfall through early next week should help alleviate drought conditions a bit in the northern Plains, especially in Minnesota and northern Iowa," he says. "However, dryness should expand a bit further across the central Plains, southern Midwest and Delta. The rains will likely not be sufficient to end concerns and more follow-up rains will be needed."          

In some spots, the shift to near-drought conditions has happened fairly quickly. Just earlier this month, Ian and Val Plagge were hoping for a drydown, as their farm was inundated by steady rains that kept their planting pace at a crawl.

"It is amazing how things can seem way too wet, then all the moisture is just shut off," Val said Wednesday. "It has been over 2 1/2 weeks since we've gotten rain now. Hopefully we get some this weekend."

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Farm Science Review, Day Two