Record winter warmth, lack of frost should aid in adding moisture to farm fields

February 23, 2024

Tom Hoverstad has never seen anything like this warm winter.

“We can’t remember anything this prolonged,” said the scientist at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca.

He said there is little frost left in the soil. In January, after a cold spell, the frost was 15 inches deep in Waseca. “Now we’re seeing very little frost left. So any rain we do get will go into the soil (rather than run off),” Hoverstad said.


He said the warmest winter on record in this area was in 1931. “And we’re going to come close to that and may break that record.”

The warmest February locally was in 1954, and depending how the month ends, we could top that record this year.

Lake ice, too, is feeling the heat.

“A lot of the lakes are already not safe,” Hoverstad said. He said the earliest ice-out in Waseca was on March 7, 1931.

Mapleton farmer Pat Duncanson has been enjoying his hobby, thanks to the warm weather.

“We’re collecting maple sap. I put the taps in on Sunday and my son is already out of vessels to collect it. It’s ideal weather for sap.”

He said the unusual winter is likely to mostly set things up well for the spring, although extended rains or other abrupt changes in the weather could change that.

“It’s very unusual. For field prep this spring, it is nice for doing work if the snow is gone and there’s moisture in the soil.”


He said that most area fields should be doing pretty well for moisture.

“With our heavy soils in south-central Minnesota, we do better if it’s a little drier instead of too wet.”

Duncanson is one of few farmers who plants cover crops in the fall to protect from soil erosion and to add nutrients. He uses cereal rye for a cover crop. Usually it comes up in late fall and then goes dormant over winter and eventually dies before spring, when he does tilling and planting.

“This year our cover crops have stayed green all winter, which is unusual. It’s not growing, but it’s staying green.”

Duncanson said he is a little concerned about whether the record warm winter might mean more pest problems this summer.

“We had a short spell of cold, but I’m not sure if it was enough (to kill off some of the pests).”

Still, he thinks the conditions portend a spring where farmers will be able to get in the fields early to do some drainage tile work, apply fertilizers and be able to incorporate manure into the fields.

Jeffrey Strock, a professor at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton, wrote that this winter and last couldn’t be any different.

“We received just 9 inches of snow at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center through Jan. 31, compared to last year’s 37.4 inches for the same time period.”

But for farmers, the more important thing is the water equivalent of the snow. So far this winter Lamberton received 9.4 inches of water from rain and snow, more than double last year’s 4.6 inches in the same time period.

“In areas of the state that received a decent amount of rain in October, coupled with the rain and snow so far this winter, there should be ample moisture in the soil this spring. Some areas of southern and southwestern Minnesota received up to 6 inches of rain last October, which helped recharge the soil profile to a large degree,” Strock wrote.