“We’re at the point where everything helps”: Drought hits Minnesota farmers and ranchers hard

Right now, she says they graze around 500 heifers, as well as 17 bulls. But she said it wouldn’t last much longer.

“We are currently running out of pasture even though we have been very careful in managing these areas,” Gray said. “This is unlike anything we’ve seen here.”

She said that generally her land is wet and the grass is plentiful. But this year, she said it’s so dry the grass just doesn’t grow. She predicts that she will only be able to grow about a third of the hay she normally produces to feed her livestock. She said it forced her to reduce her herd.

“Right now we’re pulling the cattle and shipping early,” Gray said. “We’re not supposed to ship cattle until October. We don’t have the food or pasture to feed those cattle here right now.”

Gray said other breeders she knows weaned their calves a month or two earlier and sold them. Others sell pairs of cows and calves, which she says hardly ever happens in her area.

“The problem with this is that it changes our operations, not just for today, tomorrow, next week, it changes our operations for years to come, people are losing the genetics that they worked hard for. get their whole life, ”Gray said.

Some breeders are also thinking about their future, Gray said. They wonder if they should try to find work in the city? Or should they try to rebuild their herd for next year?

“So these are important decisions that farmers and ranchers here have to try to manage,” Gray said. “Not only feed and water your cattle and get through the day, but how do you go about it? What’s your next step in terms of your livelihood, your farm, and your business? “

In response to worsening conditions faced by pastoralists, Governor Tim Walz has asked the US Department of Agriculture to allow emergency haymaking and grazing on certain lands in counties particularly affected by drought which is usually set aside in the conservation reserve program.

RELATED: Minnesota Governor Lawmakers Call on USDA to Allow Emergency Grazing, Haying on CRP Land

Allison VanDerWal, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, said making this land available to ranchers faster could make a big difference.

“We’re at the point where everything helps,” VanDerWal said.

The VanDerWal family runs a cattle feedlot in southwest Minnesota. She said her ranch received more than an inch of rain on Sunday, which she could see when she went for a walk with her mother and great-grandmother.

“We were looking at the mud and joking about the mud on my great-grandmother’s wheelchair. And we didn’t mind cleaning that up. We’re not usually a huge mud fan, but we don’t like a little mud this year, ”said VanDerWal.

Precipitation around the state has been variable. Much of Beltrami County in northern Minnesota, where the Gray Ranches are located, is now rated D3 – being in extreme drought. Most of western Minnesota is classified to the next level as severe drought. Almost the entire eastern half of the state is considered to be in moderate drought – always dry, but not as dry as the western part of the state.

Dave Nicolai, an agricultural educator at the University of Minnesota, calls it a “tale of two halves of Minnesota.”

“It’s just random. And so what really concerns us is the lack of a cohesive state or area at the state or even county level,” said Nicolai. “So it’s a boom or a slowdown in terms of whether or not you get that rain, and some places in eastern Minnesota have generally performed a lot better.”

Nicolai said this is a particularly critical time for the state’s corn harvest, as the next few weeks will be when corn is pollinated.

“And if we are under drought stress in much of the corn crop in Minnesota, it will affect yield because we won’t get the right set of kernels,” he said.

And lower yields mean less money for farmers when they sell their crops for harvest.

Luigi Romolo, the Minnesota state climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said that since March, precipitation in most of the state has been 5 to 8 inches below normal. Still, he said it’s not the worst drought in recent years. He said it was actually drier in 2013 and 2007.

But Romolo said this year, like a similar drought in 1988, intensified right in the middle of the growing season.

Romolo said the hot weather made the drought worse. And there are more dizzying temperatures in the forecast for next week.

“So when there is a lack of rainfall drought sets in and then if the temperatures are above normal… that should lead to escalating things further,” he said.

Still, Romolo stresses that it’s not yet time to panic. He said droughts are cryptic and it’s really hard to predict how long they will last.

“Every time a drought breaks out, you never know if it will be the worst drought ever. And it could be, or it could be over in a month,” he said. “So, no time to panic yet.”

Of course, that’s a tough message for ranchers struggling to feed their cattle, or for firefighters battling a 65-acre wildland fire burning near Ely in the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness.

Walz said Thursday that even as the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end, a prolonged drought appears to be in store for Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

“The pandemic may be ending, but now this one is coming,” Walz said. “[It] looks like a long dry spell for the rest of the summer, and that will impact some of the decisions we need to make. “

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