Pasture condition for northeast South Dakota and CRP updates

Farm Forum

As I write this article the rain is falling and we’re enjoying a few days of good moisture across our corner of the state. The recent rain has and sun has now started the growth process on pastures that were starting slow. Unfortunately, because of the need to submit articles early for publication, I cannot site the most recent drought indices, but the May 21st update shows that the climate models are moving in a positive direction as we are slowly shifting out of severe and moderate drought to “abnormally dry” conditions for much of northeast South Dakota, with portions of Brown, Spink, Marshal, Day, Clark, and Codington Counties Counties mapped as “normal”. Most of the state still struggles with “moderate to severe” drought, with portions of the northwest and southeast still in the “extreme” category. To keep tabs on SD drought conditions, you can visit


Along with the climatological drought models, the SD NRCS also now publishes an online pasture production drought tool under their ‘range and pasture’ tab . This is a valuable resource that is worth your time. Visit at


Pasture.html for details.

Among other tools on the site, NRCS regularly updates the SD grassland drought maps. These maps show current range production condition and projected future condition for July 1st. The maps depict range condition as a percentage of normal production. The current status map was updated on May 6th and shows that roughly the western 2/3’s of the state are still at or below 70% of normal range production for this time of year. Although this map isn’t fully up-to-date considering recent rains, the take home message is that there is a time lag between precipitation and soil moisture responseÉand subsequent plant growth. The projected drought status map predicts some variable improvements in drought condition across the state for early summer. However, most of the state remains at below about 85% of normal pasture production through July 1.

Here in the northeast, we are projected to see between 85-90% of normal production as of July 1, with small portions of some counties approaching 100% of normal. We are still encouraging grassland managers to approach their grazing plans conservatively. Predictive models are great tools, but be certain to couple that information with actual visits to your pastures to assess your own growth rates. Many pastures are starting slowly, and we may see a bit of a lag in production as we transition from cool season growth to warm season growth if we remain dry. Remember, take half leave half is your guide – resist the temptation to overharvest this valuable resource.

Regarding CRP, there are a few updates to share. For those with CRP is expiring in 2013 and who are considering taking CRP out of the program, see our recent iGrow article at for options, tips, and funding support for converting CRP fields to active pasture. The article also includes tips for working with a CRP owner to develop a grazing development plan and lease options.

Producers should also be aware that a new general CRP signup began on May 20th and continues through June 14th. Rental rates for the program are up significantly, and interested producers should visit their local USDA service center for details. A recent iGrow article provides information on seed mix options that might be beneficial if you plan to convert your CRP to pasture after your 10 or 15 year contract expires. This article can also be viewed at


Finally, for producers who have prescribed fire as a mid-term management option in their current contracts, the allowable burn date of May 15th has now passed. Planning is a necessary step in the process of using fire for CRP management and NRCS has now developed a system where producers can receive instruction and guidance on developing a qualified burn plan by working with local NRCS office staff. Producers interested in burning CRP in 2014 should start planning now by visiting with NRCS staff .