updated 4/20/2007 11:21:15 AM ET 2007-04-20T15:21:15

Dan Lilienthal says his farm can't take another dry summer. If the experts are right and current trends hold, he won't have to.

The drought that prompted the federal government last year to declare an agricultural disaster area in 39 northern Minnesota counties is over in the state's prime agricultural areas, according to new data released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

"I don't want to ever see it as dry again as last year," Lilienthal said. "Man, that was a fiery furnace, that heat wave!"

Things are looking up at Lilienthal's dairy and beef farm near Quamba, about 65 miles north of Minneapolis, where he grows his own corn, alfalfa and hay. The snow and rain he badly needed started coming last month.

The new data shows that the only areas still in drought are largely forested parts of far north-central and northeastern Minnesota. Drought in southern Minnesota _ where most of the state's key row crops are grown — "has gone away," said Greg Spoden, assistant state climatologist.

Conditions have improved across much of the upper Midwest. Last July, all of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska and nearly all of Iowa and Wisconsin were either in drought or close to it. Thursday's drought center data showed the eastern halves of the Dakotas and Nebraska were out of drought, as was all of Iowa and all but a small part of far northern Wisconsin.

In northeastern Minnesota, foresters are expecting an above-average fire season, said Jean Bergerson, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center. Long-range forecasts suggest there should be some relief over the next three months, but it's unclear when that rain will come, she said.

Lake and stream levels are expected to remain low in the dry areas of northern Minnesota, including prime vacation lands.

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