Rain, snow take away drought concerns

Farm Forum

Fields and pastures across the state look a lot different than they did last week. With too many projects to get done and the weather always unpredictable, spring is stressful in most farm and ranch operations. Many fretted as they put seed in the soil, wondering if there would be a crop to harvest this year.

We never know when the clouds will open and give us what we need, or in the case of those hit by tornadoes and high winds, what we don’t need. Our thoughts and prayers go to those devastated by the storms.

Our rain gauge showed 1.25 inches on Thursday, and we were thrilled. The puddle index in our yard showed welcome relief from scarce moisture. Tuesday morning, I dumped out another 2.25 inches. Wow! Some areas got unbelievable amounts, from 5 to 11 inches in the system that moved through.

Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension climatologist, told me last month that the middle of May would be wet.

“We nailed the mid-May rain on the head,” she told me Tuesday.

Farmers are an optimistic lot but also harbor many doubts when it comes to weather predictions. I think that comes from being at the mercy of the elements, day in and day out. Plus the subject provides a continuous topic of conversation.

When asked if the drought was over, Edwards came back with a question of her own. “What is too much? In South Dakota, we don’t know if it’s too much as we’ve been carrying quite a deficit. Driving down roads, you can see standing water in fields that have just been planted. It will take a while to see the impact with the quality of root structure that results in the saturated areas.”

She said the precipitation certainly will help the crops this year. It was pretty gentle at most times so hopefully that will have infiltrated into the soil. She heard that in the western part of the state not a lot of water was flowing in the creeks which indicates that much of the water seeped into the soil.

As far as range and forage grasses, April precipitation is most critical to the cool season grasses so there will be some losses there.

Edwards said those fields with crop residue may have caught the rain and kept the water from running off into ditches and waterways. She said the forecast is for pretty wet conditions, with an additional 2 inches possible in the next five to seven days. After that, things should dry out for a bit.

All this is taken into consideration in the recommendations made to the authors of the drought monitor reports that will be released Thursday, she said. It remains to be seen if most of South Dakota will move out of drought this week, but the precipitation certainly made a huge impact.

When I asked Edwards what happened, she said that some moisture finally got in the air. The low level jet stream pulled moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico. There was a pretty good flow from the south and cold conditions turned some of the rain to snow. The whole central area of the United States got really wet.

The June outlook will be released May 21 which will provide the next best look at what happens in June through the middle of the summer.


Aberdeen got down to 30 degrees on Tuesday, but Edwards hopes that’s the last of freezing temperatures.

As far as crops, there is not a lot of winter wheat in this area. Out at Onida, Ruth Beck, SDSU Extension agronomy field specialist checked some wheat fields that may have had damage, but it may take time to show. In the northern areas, the wheat may not have emerged far enough to have the growth point hurt by the frost.

Spring wheat, in most cases, was not far enough along to have suffered, Edwards said.

With night temperatures forecast to be 45 to 50 degrees, the gardeners will be facing a problem with saturation rather than cold when trying to get seeds in the ground.

Edwards said that reports from farm agencies across the state indicated there was a minimum amount of damage to livestock operations from the storm. The snow was heavy and wet, which didn’t allow much to blow around and drift. Many of the cattle were still close to home, and most were done calving, so newborn livestock were mostly OK.

Last week, who would have thought that we’d be worried about fields being waterlogged instead of too dry? It will make for an interesting summer.

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