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Published on February 20, 2024
Minnesota Farmers Eye Early Planting Amid Unusually Warm Winter and Sparse SnowfallSource: University of Minnesota

Minnesota's farmers face an unusual start to the planting season, courtesy of warm weather and a significant drop in snowfall. According to a report from the University of Minnesota, the state has seen just nine inches of snow through January 31 at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center, a sharp decline from the 37.4 inches recorded by the same time last year. But it's not just about the inches of snow, the water content matters more, experts say.

Despite the warm trend, Jeffrey Strock, a professor at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center, has a surprisingly optimistic view. Speaking with the University of Minnesota, he clarified, "Although this discrepancy might sound alarming, it’s more important to focus on the water equivalent of the snow and what the spring warm-up will be like." Strock noted the total precipitation, including 9.4 inches of rain and snow, was more than double the previous year's amount.

There's hope yet for the state's agricultural prospects. Some regions of the state that soaked up to 6 inches of rain last October, coupled with the recent precipitation, could mean that there's enough moisture in the ground for a successful spring. "In fact, the last measurement on November 15 showed 6.5 inches of available water in the soil profile — about one inch higher than the historic average," Strock told the University of Minnesota. Having weathered three years of droughts with crop yields that still met or exceeded expectations, the situation for farmers isn't as dire as one might assume.

One topic buzzing among growers is the proposition of early planting. Strock mused, that as long as March and April weather doesn't throw a curveball, farmers might get their crops in the ground sooner than usual. "Growers have been discussing the possibility of early planting this season. While we don’t really know what March and April will bring, it may be possible if the current trend holds," he remarked. And as for growers planting cover crops like rye, these could see swift growth, necessitating mindful management. However, there are constraints tied to crop insurance on how early the seeds can hit the soil.

While optimism is cautiously in the air, Strock adds a note of realism for the Minnesota farmers, reminding them of the state's unpredictable climate. "Remember we live in Minnesota where we know the weather is fickle," he said. "Wait five minutes, things are likely to change."

The College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) at the University of Minnesota, the source of Strock's insights, continues to shape futures by merging science with practical applications. By imparting knowledge through hands-on learning, CFANS is addressing today's challenges and those of the future, fostering the next wave of leaders in the vast field of natural resources and agriculture.