Focus on Ag

2012 Agriculture Review: Crop Production, Drought Conditions


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The continued drought across the region and much of the primary crop growing areas of the U.S. is certainly a concern as we look forward to the 2013 growing season. Stored soil moisture levels in most of southern and western Minnesota are at historically low levels. Nearly all reporting stations have 2 in. or less of stored soil moisture in the top 5 ft. of soil, compared to normal levels of 6-8 in. of stored soil moisture following the growing season. Most of southwest and south-central Minnesota is listed as being in an extreme drought, according to the latest national Drought Monitor estimates, with nearly the entire state categorized as being in a moderate, severe or extreme drought. In December 2011, about 57% of the state was categorized in a moderate drought or worse, with no areas of the state considered to be in an extreme drought. The ongoing drought conditions are also highly visible with the extremely low levels of lakes, rivers and streams across many areas of Minnesota.

According to precipitation data at the University of Minnesota Southern Research Center at Waseca, the region has been in drought-like conditions for the past 16 months. From Aug. 1, 2011 to Nov. 30, 2012, Waseca has received only about 60% of their normal precipitation during that period, receiving nearly 19 in. of total precipitation less than normal. For the three-month period from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2012, Waseca received only 4.49 in. of total rainfall, compared to a normal amount of 12.24 in., which is 37% of normal. Some areas of western south-central Minnesota and southwestern Minnesota received even less rainfall than Waseca during that period.

The only two months in 2012 that Waseca received significantly above-normal precipitation were in May with +1.81 in., and in February with +1.29 in., with nearly 2 in. coming as rainfall on Feb. 29. Those two months helped replenish depleted stored soil moisture supplies, which ultimately helped lead to the better-than-expected 2012 corn and soybean yields in many areas of southern Minnesota, even though the later growing season was extremely dry. The region will need a similar occurrence in 2013 in order to achieve favorable crop yields again next year.


Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at

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