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Grand Forks area enters ninth-driest April-May period

The National Weather Service said that despite recent rain, the Red River Valley is classified in a moderate drought category. Forecaster Mark Ewens said figures show the Grand Forks area is in its ninth-driest April-May period. The river's mains...

The National Weather Service said that despite recent rain, the Red River Valley is classified in a moderate drought category.

Forecaster Mark Ewens said figures show the Grand Forks area is in its ninth-driest April-May period. The river's mainstem is lower and slower -- about 80 percent of what's normal in Fargo and 52 percent of what's normal in Grand Forks, he said. But he sees no reason to panic.

"If we had an extreme drought, that might cause concern later, but at present .?.?. it's just an indicator that base flows are down, meaning subsoil moisture is also down," he said.

Red River tributaries also are low. Ewens said a two- or three-day soaking rain would go a long way toward replenishing soil moisture supplies. A storm system forecast to bring rain to the region this weekend could drop one-half inch to 1 inch with isolated 2-inch amounts, the weather service said.

About 96 percent of North Dakota now is suffering from drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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The database is produced by the weather service's Climate Prediction Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Planting progress

For agriculture, the scarcity of showers has helped North Dakota farmers make rapid planting progress. But precipitation will be needed as the growing season continues.

Virtually all of the state's wheat is in the ground, with corn and soybean planting wrapping up shortly, officials said.

The need for rain is greater and more immediate in much of North Dakota, particularly the western part of the state.

For instance, Dickinson, N.D., has received 1.1 inches of precipitation this year. The normal amount is 4.66 inches.

Fifty-two percent of pastureland in North Dakota is in poor or very poor condition, according to USDA.

Byron Richard, who farms at Belfield, N.D., near Medora, said conditions in his area resemble the drought that ravaged south-central North Dakota in 2006.

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Eastern North Dakota is doing better, but rain is needed there, too.

Southern Cass County generally has received more rain than the northern end of the county, though rainfall varies from farm to farm, said John Kringler, county extension agent.

Fargo has received about 5 inches of precipitation this year. About 5½ inches are normal.

Cass County farmers have nearly wrapped up planting, Kringler said.

Many of the crops in the area around Reynolds, N.D., southwest of Grand Forks, have emerged from the soil, said Paul Coppin, general manager of the Reynolds United Co-op grain elevator.

"But we're going to need rain to keep them going," he said.

In Minnesota

Rain slowed corn and soybean planting in parts of Minnesota earlier this month, but major progress has been made recently, USDA said.

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Thanks to the rain, 84 percent of the state has adequate or better moisture, according to the Drought Monitor.

The remaining 16 percent of Minnesota -- in the northwestern and west-central parts of the state -- is dry, but not critically so, the Drought Monitor said.

"We're doing OK for now," said Ron Christensen, a Battle Lake, Minn., farmer and cattle producer.

Still, he and other western Minnesota farmers need rain soon to keep crops and pastures developing properly.

The Associated Press and The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this report.

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