Is 2021 Setting up to be a Drought Year?

You’re focused on planting right now, but we’re keeping an eye on signs that parts of the Midwest may be headed for a drought this year.
w A fairly strong La Niña is setting up. The resulting cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean impact global weather patterns, including drier-than-normal conditions in our part of the world.

  • While the eastern half of the Corn Belt has adequate soil moisture for the 2021 planting season, the western half of the Corn Belt may not have enough moisture at planting, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The ideal soil moisture for planting is 50%,” reports Dennis Klockenga, a crop management consultant with ProfitProAG. In much of Minnesota, however, soil moisture levels are hovering around 30%. These levels are even lower in parts of North Dakota.

  • NOAA is predicting above-average temperatures in the Corn Belt in its April-June 2021 outlook.

  • The U.S. Drought Monitor (figure 1) is also indicating potential trouble in 2021. “Since the drought monitor was released in 2000, we’ve never seen a drought situation looking like this,” says Eric Snodgrass, principal atmospheric scientist at Nutrien Ag Solutions. “There’s extensive drought in the Northern Plains, with exceptional drought in the four-corner states.”

  • Since early April, much of South Dakota and parts of North Dakota have been under a Red Flag Warning, meaning warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds can increase the risk of fire danger.

Heavy rains can create more challenges

The numbers tell a story that a drought is already here in some areas. NOAA’s statewide precipitation rate map, which shows how dry or wet each state is, uses a scale is from 1 (record driest) to 126 (record wettest). North Dakota was ranked the driest state (1), as of February 2021, with Minnesota at 12 and Iowa at 71 (figure 2). Some parts of North Dakota are more than 30 inches short on moisture. To mitigate this deficit, North Dakota needs 200% of their normal spring rain this year, and all this moisture needs to soak into the soil.

That last point is critical. Let’s hope for light, steady rains that will soak in the soil. Dry soil does not absorb heavy rain. The raindrops “bounce” off instead. This can lead to flooding, which can create more problems than dry fields.
You can take steps to drought-proof your soil and protect your crops. Learn more in the blog “Weatherproofing Your Crops in 2021” on our website (profitproag.com under the ‘In the News’ tab). We welcome your questions and look forward to working with you this year.

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