Drought conditions should bring concern, not panic

Farm Forum

Day County farmer John Horter has been feeling the effects of drought conditions for the first time in his 16-year career.

“Since I started, it’s been pretty good conditions,” he said.

His father, who began farming in the 1970s, tells stories of horrible droughts in the ’70s and ’80s.

A fifth-generation farmer, Horter raises corn, soybeans and cattle between Bristol and Andover.

“Everything is just kind of hurting,” he said. “There’s not really any priority. We just need rain in general.”

Much of South Dakota is dealing with drought conditions, but now is not the time to panic, one ag expert said.

“We need some rain, that’s for sure,” said Alvaro Garcia, South Dakota State University Extension agriculture and natural resources program director. “We have to be attentive. We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

Much of West River is in moderate to extreme drought, with outer edges near the Missouri River categorized as abnormally dry, according to the June 28 U.S. Drought Monitor. A pocket in northeast South Dakota is in severe drought.

Most of Roberts County is in a severe drought, with moderate drought affecting bordering Day, Marshall and Grant counties, according to the Drought Monitor. It lists several other counties, including most of Brown and Spink, as “abnormally dry.”

Without a lot of snow over the winter and a fairly dry spring, Horter said the last time he felt his land was properly hydrated was in fall.

“Lower production is really going to be a financial stress on operators in the area,” he said.

In addition to concern for his crops, Horter said he believes low-quality water — the result of no rain to fill dugouts, creeks and streams — has made some of his cattle sick.

“We believe it was water issues. We just haven’t had any fresh water,” Horter said.

In order to help improve water quality, Horter said that he’s hired an excavator to dig his dugouts deeper in hopes of finding cleaner, fresher water.

Garcia recommends ranchers test their water when it gets low.

Drought and dry conditions are normal in South Dakota, he said.

“We need to handle it,” Garcia said. “We need to be prepared. We need to take the right measures.”

Farmers who have started in South Dakota in the last five to 10 years might be caught by surprise, Garcia said. But longtime, multi-generational farmers have been through similar conditions before.

“Producers in South Dakota are resilient, because they know that we are in an area of the country that’s borderline dry most of the time,” he said. “This is not something that will take them by surprise.”

The drought in Roberts County is a bit of an anomaly, said Travis Tarver, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen. Rain and thunderstorms that have rolled through the area have been missing the northeast corner of the state.

“They just kind of missed out on some of the bigger rain events here the past several weeks,” Tarver said.

For that reason, he said, the Sisseton area has had about 41/2 inches less moisture than is normal for this time of year.

“They would need a pretty heavy rainy pattern that would persist over several days or a couple of really heavy rain-producing storms” to get caught up, Tarver said.

No such rain is in the forecast.

Right now, conditions for crops and cattle could go either way, Garcia said. But it seems like things are more likely to get drier, he said.

“The problem with summer rains is they are intense, but sporadic,” Garcia said. “What we need is not very likely to be received. … We need steady rain for a few days where it soaks into the soil.”

Either way, Tarver said, July will be hot.

“If the forecast is hotter than normal, certainly the heat doesn’t help drought situations either,” he said.

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