Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

McMillan: U.S. drought area down, but very dry areas drier

Total U.S. farmland under drought edged lower over the week ending May 21, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s Thursday update.

During that week, the area ranked as having no drought impact at all moved from 38.3 to 39.1 per cent, as a result of heavy rain over the northern Plains and Midwest, according to the Monitor, produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the southern High Plains, little to no rain fell and temperatures ranged from 35 to 40 C, breaking many high temperature records. The higher temperatures extended north into Nebraska and Iowa, where peaks of 41 and 42 C occurred, breaking records not seen since the Dirty ’30s.

While the area under drought dropped, the intensity of drought increased in the driest areas. As the Monitor put it, “The gradient between improving conditions and worsening drought continued to sharpen.”

The area under “exceptional” drought rose slightly from 4.5 to five per cent, with most of the increase seen in Texas. Less than three per cent of Texas is free of drought.

The high temperatures and dry weather did not force winter wheat to mature faster than normal. Roughly 70 to 79 per cent of winter wheat has now headed in Texas and Oklahoma. Normally, nearly all would be headed by this point.

Crop conditions reflect the worsening weather in the southern winter wheat-growing regions. Since the crop began breaking dormancy in March, the amount of winter wheat ranked “very poor” and “poor” rose from 49 to 76 per cent in Texas and from 33 to 52 per cent in Oklahoma.

Temperatures are forecast to remain high in the week ahead. The delayed maturation will mean filling and ripening of winter wheat will occur under weather conditions that are traditionally hotter and drier. High temperatures during this period can cause quality problems and yield loss.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

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