It has been a bizarre stretch of weather for much of the state, from a warm and dry winter to a wet spring to a summer of drought. Crop and weather reports show Minnesota is in better condition on average than other corn-belt states, but farmers don't farm in the aggregate.

Rainfall has been spotty, and the health of an individual farmer's crops - and his or her financial outlook - can vary dramatically depending on whether the fields happened to be under the right cloud at the right time. For livestock producers, even those with forage and feed on hand, the hot and dry summer has stressed animals and intensified concerns about feed costs.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, much of Minnesota's agricultural area is abnormally dry, and sizable portions of western and southern Minnesota are now experiencing moderate or severe drought. Every day that goes by without rain makes the situation worse. Of course, the suffering extends well beyond our state borders. As of early August, massive sections of America's corn belt faced severe drought or worse.

Recognizing this difficult situation confronting farmers, we recently sat down the leaders from many of Minnesota's top agricultural organizations to ask them how state and federal officials might help. We can't make it rain, but we can help farmers in three specific ways: first, by making sure federal officials are aware that Minnesota farmers are suffering from this drought; second, by making it easier for farmers to find useful crop and weather information; and third, by helping farmers access the range of state and federal programs available to help them.

To that end, we have consolidated important drought-related information for farmers on our Minnesota Department of Agriculture website at www.mda.state.mn.us/drought. The site has information about crop and weather conditions, as well as federal and state resources that can help farmers deal with the impacts of those conditions. We will continue to work with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and other partners to update our site to make sure it includes the best information to help Minnesota farmers dealing with this situation.

We Minnesotans take pride in our ability to cope with tough weather, but this situation is stretching some to the breaking point. I encourage any farm family facing a financial or personal crisis to take advantage of the confidential help available through our Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network (MFAN). We have included MFAN information on our web site, and farmers can contact the program by calling 1-877-898-MFAN (6326).

Regardless of what Mother Nature brings us in the weeks to come, there is still plenty of reason for optimism about the long-term prospects for Minnesota agriculture. Our focus right now is on helping affected farmers cope with the drought so they can get back to the business of feeding a hungry world.

Dave Frederickson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Find out more about Minnesota agriculture at: www.youtube.com/mnagriculture, www.twitter.com/mnagriculture, www.mda.state.mn.us/facebook or www.mda.state.mn.us.