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Drought concerns grow in South Dakota

Much of the South Dakota wheat crop is a disaster due to drought, so many farmers have baled their wheat for hay. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)1 / 2
Cattle producers have been hit hard by the drought, and with pastures drying up early, many were forced to cull their herds. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)2 / 2

ABERDEEN, S.D. — The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows the drought is expanding in South Dakota, with nearly 100 percent of the state in some level of drought.

"In all the four categories now shown in South Dakota, all of them expanded in area — the worst being the D3 extreme drought area." says Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension State Climatologist.

The D3 area encompasses north central South Dakota. "D3 category is seen maybe three times in a century, so certainly it's a really tough situation up there," she says.

Edwards says the 2017 drought is different than the 2012 drought in the timing and progression in the state.

"So, 2012 was really severe, more in the southern, southeast part of the state, and it impacted different crops, whereas this year it started earlier, more in the wheat and small grain area, and pasture and range," she says.

Cattle producers have been hit hard. With pastures drying up early, many were forced to cull their herds. According to Craig Schaunaman, who farms west of Aberdeen in Brown County, pasture conditions are reducing stocking rates, and he is seeing "a lot of pairs go to town."

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers is aware of the early culling.

"Producers probably culled down to what they thought they could to get by for some time," he says. However, Jaspers believes there will be more culling in the fall, and Schaunaman says many producers are or will wean calves early so there is enough grass for their cows.

With the U.S. Drought Monitor showing D3 level drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released Conservation Reserve Program acres for emergency haying and grazing. However, farmers also baled their wheat for hay with much of the crop a disaster.

"Our wheat was appraised at five bushels per acre," Schaunaman says. "I would say for the most part, the spring wheat from our place west was taken for hay."

Jaspers has seen the same trend.

"Between spring wheat and winter wheat, give or take around 50 percent of both of those crops have been harvested for hay," he says. "And with the remaining crop, the yields are going to be very poor compared to what we're used to — well below our averages I believe."

Corn has also been hurt with the hot, dry conditions during pollination, and even soybeans have gone dormant in some areas.

"We're really going to be keeping an eye on things for the next few weeks," says Edwards. "But we might not see the real impacts until August or sometime later — maybe in September when we actually see those ears and see what happened here in July."

Jaspers says some of the areas experiencing drought this year were also hit last year, and when you add in the low commodity prices, they are concerned about losing individual operations.

"We're trying to do what we can to make whatever resources are available within the state available to producers to help hang on," he says.

However, use of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture Loan Mediation Program is up.

"Just in the last two years we've seen an increase of over 170 percent, from 2014 to 2016 calendar years, and 2017 is definitely trending higher again as well, and that really tells the story of really the financial duress out there in ag production right now," says Jaspers.

South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels says they have activated the Drought Task Force but more assistance will be needed.

"We have various soft spots in working with our farm lenders and other people to get them through these down times," he says. "They are looking at working with the lenders in terms of liquidity needs and bridging loans for keeping the herds together and also the crop areas."

Jaspers, along with the state's farmers and ranchers remains optimistic.

"Hopefully we can figure out ways that our producers can hang on to what they have left, get through this year and hopefully we can get some moisture and things can rebound next year," he says.

For state officials, their other concern is the impact on the economy, with agriculture being the top industry in the state.

"If there isn't any money in the agricultural sector, that affects us all and we're seeing that. We see that already in a sales tax decline," Michels says.

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