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Fields in western North Dakota, and most other parts of the state, are green and lush thanks to some bountiful rainfall this summer. Iain Woessner / Forum News Service

ND drought free as producers enjoy wetter days, 'fantastic' crops so far

DICKINSON, N.D.—There's been a lot of thunder, lightning and rain in western North Dakota this past week, emblematic of a fairly wet summer season that producers find a welcome change to how things were last year.

"I would have to suggest ... that we are free of drought," Byron Richard, a rancher in the Belfield area in far western North Dakota, said in a phone interview. "Pasture is looking as good as I've seen in three years now. Crops side, the canola crops I've seen look very good."

Stuart Nielsen, a farmer in New England in the southwest part of the state, also reported a positive impact this year on his crops.

"Well, it's been a complete change around from last year. Where last year it never rained and we really didn't have much of anything for crops because of it," Nielsen said. "This year, since the end of May, it has rained most everyday or every other day, it's been great for the crops and I think where hail didn't hit there's some fantastic crops out there. Absolutely great."

The U.S. Drought Monitor bears those assessments out. When comparing the drought severity between this year and last year on its website—the difference is clear.

On July 4, 2017, large swaths of the southwestern and western portions of North Dakota were experiencing extreme levels of drought, the second highest possible. This year, those same areas are all but drought free.

The only listing on the drought monitor for North Dakota is the "abnormally dry" designation for a small area in southwest North Dakota south of Dickinson, and a few counties in north-central, northeast and southeast parts of the state.

The drought monitor report described the situation in North Dakota in its most recent update: "Moderate to heavy rains (but only isolated minor flooding) pelted western North Dakota as well, prompting the removal of abnormal dryness over much of the western part of the state. Small-scale improvements were made in a few other dry areas where rain was heaviest."

It's not all perfect, though. Nielsen said that the wet weather has made haying a challenge.

"The biggest detriment to what we've had is that it's kept us from getting our haying done, it's been too wet or too muddy or whatever to actually get in and get the hay up," he said.

Richard has had some better luck with his hay production.

"We're seeing some very good hay production that we haven't seen in four years," he said. "That'll do a long way towards building our inventories ... hopefully to have a little extra going into future years."

Richard said that historically, the rainy season for this region hits about late April and through May. This year, the serious rains seem to have just now arrived, in late June and early July. The U.S. Drought Monitor comparison map, along with other resources and data, can be found at this web address " target="_blank">