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Persistent Northern Plains Drought Hurts Corn, Beans Along With Spring Wheat

Spring wheat has been getting most of the recent headlines as dry weather continues to plague the Northern Plains, but corn and beans likely will start to get more attention as the crop season moves on.

Little to no rain has fallen in North Dakota, the biggest grower of spring wheat in the U.S., in the past two weeks, according to the National Weather Service. Most of South Dakota (other than a small sliver in the middle of the state) has also been dry in the past 14 days, weather maps show. As shown at right, areas of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana are moving into an extreme drought (shown in red), while other parts remain in severe (orange) and moderate drought (tan).

The persistent hot, dry weather has farmers, analysts, and traders worried about yields and production for wheat, corn, and soybeans in the region. While market-watchers have been focused mostly on spring wheat, the spotlight likely will soon turn to corn production since the Fourth of July has passed, said Chris Hyde, a meteorologist at MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. (For more information on wheat, read South Dakota Wheat Farmers Bale Wheat Crop.)

Steve Halverson, who grows both wheat and corn near Kennebec, South Dakota, said his corn is a foot tall – well shorter than normal – and has essentially stopped growing due to lack of precipitation. The area in which he lives hasn’t seen measurable rainfall since April 10.

“It’s going to be a struggle to get my corn harvested,” Halverson said. “I’m hoping it’s tall enough to silage it for feed, but if we don’t get rain it’s going to be out of moisture soon. It’s still green for now, but if we don’t get moisture soon, it’s going to die.”

Spring wheat in North Dakota was rated 41% good or excellent, while only 11% of the crop in South Dakota earned top ratings, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 55% of North Dakota corn was in good or excellent condition, while only 42% of the South Dakota crop was rated in top condition, the USDA said.

About two thirds of the state is suffering from drought conditions, and the rest is abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

What’s worse, Hyde said, is there’s no widespread rainfall forecast for the Northern Plains for at least the next two weeks.

MDA’s forecast shows 30% to 60% of normal rainfall in North Dakota in the 15 days through July 19 with only one small pocket in the south-central part of the state at normal levels. The best chance for widespread precipitation is this week, but that’s in the extreme eastern part of the state, he said.

Temperatures will be extremely hot even for July, with temperatures in the high-90s and triple digits through the weekend, Hyde said. Temperatures are expected to be 4˚ to 8˚ above normal.

Halverson said he doesn’t grow soybeans on his farm, but many of his neighbors do. As with spring wheat and corn, beans are suffering from the effects of the drought.

Subsoil moisture is pretty much nonexistent, and the amount of moisture in the topsoil is declining daily, leaving all crops desperate for water, he said.

“It’s so dry, nothing is doing well,” he said. “We haven’t had measurable precipitation in so long, and hot temperatures are taking a toll on the crops. We just need the weather pattern to change to give these crops a chance to grow, but it’s not looking good.”

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