South Dakota drought trade-off sees conditions improve in eastern counties, worsen in others

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum
Map of drought conditions in the High Plains. While the state saw improvements in some of the lesser drought conditions across the state, an extremely dry pocket grew in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska and worsened in Haakon and Ziebach Counties.

When it rains, it pours, so the saying goes. For South Dakota, that ironically applies to the three-year drought's dryness streak.

South Dakota saw a trade-off this week of some counties improving, some worsening and some stagnant in drought intensities, according to National Weather Service Hydrologist Mike Gillispie.

He said some counties with abnormal dryness, such as Brookings, Minnehaha and Moody counties along the eastern border, significantly improved thanks to a record-breaking Sunday rainstorm.

"We've had a few areas that really picked up a lot of nice precipitation. Obviously, we had the really heavy rainfall around Sioux Falls here," Gillispie said. "At least in the eastern part of the state, basically everywhere from Mitchell to Sioux Falls saw over an inch of rain. We had the real heavy rain from Humboldt over to … Luverne, and from Milford to Spirit Lake, Iowa, those areas have seen improved drought conditions over the last week."

Map of South Dakota showing percentage of normal precipitation between Aug. 5 and Aug. 11.

However, not every county has been so lucky. Gillispie said a pocket of extreme drought at the intersection of Iowa, Nebraska and southeast South Dakota grew between Aug. 2 and Aug. 9, and areas of Haakon and Ziebach counties upgraded from severe to extreme.

"Down toward Sioux City, those areas have missed out on the rain all year. Yankton, Vermillion are also quite a bit below normal," Gillispie said. "West of the Missouri … that one area over there just keeps missing out."

Impact on farms: Early corn harvests, selling livestock  

For producers in that southeastern red zone, the unrelenting dryness is compounded with the ag equivalent of budget cuts.

Gillispie said some farmers are having to harvest their corn ahead of schedule, so it can be grinded down and repurposed as livestock feed. But he's also heard anecdotes of the heat drying out the crop enough for nitrate, a toxic chemical, to build up in the corn, which renders it unusable.

Adele Harty, Cow/Calf Specialist with South Dakota State University Extension

Adele Harty, a cow/calf specialist with South Dakota State University Extension, said livestock farmers are also feeling the heat.

 "I've talked to some producers who have talked about early weaning and … having to sell off earlier and sell more [livestock]," Harty said.

Gillispie also said producers in drought-stricken areas west of the Missouri are starting to see stock ponds and pastures dry up on account of the long-term dryness.

"[Western South Dakota] had some challenging situations in regard to some of these forages," Harty said. "There's not a lot of grass available in a lot of those areas."

Harty said producers worried about whether their corn is unusable should contact the SDSU Extension office to request a nitrate quick test, which can screen for the chemical.

Dominik Dausch is the agriculture and environment reporter for the Argus Leader and editor of Farm Forum. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @DomDNP and send news tips to ddausch@gannett.com.