Drought continues in the High Plains, while Midwestern farmers see rainfall extremes

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Heat and dryness continue to ravage crops and rangeland in the High Plains, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday.

In South Dakota, one of the nation’s top wheat producing states, nearly 75 percent of the spring crop is in poor to very poor condition, according to the report. In North Dakota, the nation’s second largest wheat producer, 40 percent of the spring wheat crop is in poor to very poor condition.

Rangeland statistics across Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are similarly bleak, with as much as 74 percent of rangeland in North Dakota in poor to very poor condition.

In response to the drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it would open portions of land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)  for emergency haying and grazing to assist farmers and ranchers in drought-stricken areas of the High Plains. The CRP, signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1985, provides payments to farmers who voluntarily end agricultural production on environmentally sensitive land and replace it with other plant species.  Emergency haying will be permitted in the region until Aug. 31, and emergency grazing will be permitted until Sep. 30, according to the announcement.

Portions of the Midwest aren’t faring much better, with nearly half the state of Iowa experiencing "abnormally dry" or "moderate drought" conditions. And despite heavy rains and recent flooding in the northern part of the state, 42 percent of the Illinois is experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions according to U.S. Drought Monitor.

Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel noted on Twitter that rainfall this month has been “extremely wet to extremely dry, from one county to the next.”

Periods of heavy rain and heavy flooding followed by periods of drought could become more common in the region, according to Bradley Tomasek, who authored a research article on the effects of climate change and farming as a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

Tomasek, now a doctoral candidate at Duke University, explained during an interview with Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting earlier this year that future climate predictions show lower field workability in the spring and drought in the late summer.

See our related coverage:

Lagging crop conditions could be preview of future Illinois climate

Illinois could see the effects of climate change as soon as 2020

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