‘Things have to change rapidly’

Waiting on rain, 2022 ag projections sit in the balance

When it comes to getting enough rain for an adequate harvest year, Mercer County still has time — but not much. 

Mercer County Extension Agent Craig Askim said to get the local agriculture industry back on track for 2022, the county needs to see some rain within the next four to six weeks. 

“We have another month or so before things start to get really drastic,” Askim said. 

As winter officially comes to a close, Askim said he county is currently very short on moisture.

“The little bit of snowfall we got didn’t really amount to too much so unfortunately most of that has evaporated or is gone,” Askim said. 

Compared to March 2021, Mercer is in similar drought conditions now, but without the added protection of large reserves to fall back on.

“The trends are very similar to conditions we were facing last year,” Askim said. “We’ll be kind of in a tougher situation in 2022 because we don’t have any reserves, or very little reserves because we went through it last year.” 

Askim said that the early-season moisture is vital for grass growth and germination, directly impacting farmers and ranchers in the area. And while producers look for adequate rain all season long, Askim said it is vital in April and May. 

“Two thirds of grass development occurs in April or May, so if we don’t get it at that time, by the 15th of June, growth is done for the year,” Askim said. 

Weather rain, and enough of it, will come this year is yet to be seen. 

The Farmer’s Almanac, one trusted source for the ag industry, suggests average rainfall with average to above average temperatures throughout the state this summer. 

According to the National Weather Service, Mercer is currently in a D1 drought, classified by water-stressed pastures, declining water levels and increased fire danger. The eastern part of the state is faring better, Askim said. 

“In 2021, the whole state was in drought situations, but in 2022, that’s not the case,” Askim said. “The eastern half is in pretty good shape.”

The western side of the state had more ground to make up to come back from last year, Askim said, a challenge that will be ahead of farmers and ranchers no matter how well the season ends. 

“On the crop side, input costs have doubled or possibly tripled,” Askim said. “Fertilizer, Diesel fuel, chemicals, everything is considerably higher than in 2021.”

While commodity prices are up, it’s a delayed return on investment for producers who will likely need to shell out significantly more money this year to get there. 

If things don’t improve, Askim said he would expect food and fuel prices to remain high, and for more negative impacts on global shipping to arise. 

“You would expect higher prices of almost any commodity,” Askim said. 

It’s a “dire situation” currently in Mercer County, Askim said, but, he noted, things can still change. 

“As we talk here today, it’s looking like it’s going to be another tough year in 2022,” Askim said. “But we live in North Dakota and people who have lived in North Dakota know that the weather can change within a few hours, so there still is hope.”

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