crops

Both sides of the St. Croix River Valley are suffering from dry conditions, but the pivotal time for crops is still yet to come and yields could remain high if rain comes in late July-early August. 

Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota continue to experience the nationwide trend of unusually warm temperatures and low rainfall. As the drought becomes more prominent, the attention in this area turns to agriculture. 

Portions of Polk County Wisc. are currently in the first two stages of drought, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s U.S. Drought Monitor. These stages are “abnormally dry” and “moderate drought,” respectively. Just over half of the county is in one of these two stages, while the southeastern portion of Polk County remains technically drought free. 

Across the river in Washington County, Minnesota, the situation is slightly worse. The entire county is listed as either abnormally dry or in moderate drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly summary said while the lower Midwest recently received heavy rainfall, the upper Midwest is still very much in need of moisture. 

“In the Upper Midwest, which mostly missed out on the heaviest rain, drought remains a concern,” the report read. “In Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports as of June 27, that 75 percent of the state’s topsoil moisture is short to very short, meaning that it’s significantly less than what is required for normal plant development.” 

The southern portion of both Minnesota and Wisconsin are being hit the hardest, and while corn and soy beans are obviously heavily affect by drought, it’s grazing pastures that take the first hit. 

“You see (the effects) in pastures first in a lot of cases,” said Ryan Sterry, an agricultural agent with the University of Wisconsin extension office in St. Croix County. “It like you see with yards, they turn brown and get stressed.”

 Sterry is seeing that stress in western Wisconsin pastures sporadically, but said the situation with grassland and row crops varies widely. 

“I think it’s really variable around here,” he said. “Polk County runs the gamut. The east side of the county technically isn’t drought, central there’s a swath that’s abnormally dry and then the far northwest corner, by the pine barrens, is technically drought. So you’ve got all three conditions going in the county at once, depending on where you’re at.” 

Spotty rainfall causes a lot of that variability. 

“If you think of a lot of the rains we’ve gotten, it’s been a lot of pop up showers,” Sterry said. “So you do get that variation.” 

Soil type and condition is also a major factor. 

“You can visually see what the different soil types are,” Sterry said. “More sandy ground shows drought stress earlier and doesn’t have the water holding capacity. That really stands out when you have dry conditions like this.” 

The long-term effects of the drought remains to be seen, according to Sterry. 

“In general, especially corn, when it starts tasseling and pollinating that’s really the key time, and we’re not there yet,” he said. “That’s going to be more of a make or break time as far as what the yield is going to be. Not that (current conditions) aren’t having an affect on yield, but it’s to a much lesser degree than when it starts tasseling.” 

The timeframe for when corn starts to tassel also varies widely, but generally occurs between late July and early August. 

“So we’re a few weeks away,” Sterry said. “It’s getting closer, but we’ve still got a few weeks to go.” 

Once that happens, ag experts and farmers across the Midwest will have a much better picture of how the drought will impact the bottom line. 

“Yes it’s having an affect now, but when corn and soy beans start flowering moisture has a greater impact on the end yield. So it’s really hard to say at this moment how much this has affected yield to this point,” he said. “If we keep getting timely rains, there’s still hope.” 

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