A Prairie Pothole Primer

It’s a sure sign of a wet spring in the Dakotas and northwest Minnesota: The potholes have filled, or nearly so, with water.

Most Agweek readers know all about potholes, of course, but here’s a prairie pothole primer. When the glaciers retreated north thousands of years, they left small depressions across much of the Upper Midwest. The depressions are more or less round (like a pot) and fill with snowmelt and rain in the spring. If you hunt ducks or or other waterfowl, you like potholes, in which waterfowl feed and breed. Potholes provide habitat for other types of birds, too.

For farmers, however, potholes complicate planting.  When full of water, potholes are like multiple tiny lakes and, usually, the land around them is too wet to plant.

On several recent trips in eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, I’ve seen that potholes in many fields are full, or nearly so. We’ll need a prolonged stretch of warm, dry weather to reduce the water in them and dry the soil around them.

If you hunt ducks or other waterfowl, don’t send me angry emails. I understand the importance of potholes to what you do and love. And, personally, I prefer living in an area with more, rather than less, wildlife. Right now, though, I’m sick and tired of seeing so many full potholes.