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U.S. Drought Monitor shows about half of SD is too dry

HAMILL, S.D. -- Farmers and ranchers in South Dakota are facing the consequences of less-than-ideal rainfall this summer. "You kind of just want to look up to the sky and say, 'What did I do wrong?' " said Monty Larson, a rancher from Hamill. Dro...

Monty Larson, a rancher from north of Hamill, discusses the issues his farm and ranch has been experiencing this summer. Tripp, Lyman and Brule counties are in a short dry period and have had from 25 to 75 percent of the normal rainfall. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Monty Larson, a rancher from north of Hamill, discusses the issues his farm and ranch has been experiencing this summer. Tripp, Lyman and Brule counties are in a short dry period and have had from 25 to 75 percent of the normal rainfall. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

HAMILL, S.D. - Farmers and ranchers in South Dakota are facing the consequences of less-than-ideal rainfall this summer.

"You kind of just want to look up to the sky and say, 'What did I do wrong?' " said Monty Larson, a rancher from Hamill.

Drought can cause issues from poor water quality to poor crop yields for agriculture, and it has had severe impacts for the Larson family. The Larsons operate a cow-calf operation and farm on 22,000 acres near Hamill in Tripp County in south-central South Dakota. The family hayed and chopped their winter wheat for feed, and his family planted cane in hopes of a second crop, but there has not been much growth.

"Looking at it you'd think it wasn't even planted," Larson said.

Larson and his family are not the only ones experiencing issues from the drought or ensuing threat of drought. The dry weather has affected West River and parts of northeastern South Dakota, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which shows about half of South Dakota is in some form of drought. Parts of Tripp, Lyman and Brule counties are under drought watch. These counties have received anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of normal rainfall over the last 14 days and are experiencing a short-term dryness, said Mike Gillespie, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

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"It's not terribly bad, but the less than normal precipitation and above normal temperatures can cause it to get dry pretty quick," Gillespie said.

But, Gillespie said there is a chance of 1 to 1.5 inches of rain in the next five days for Tripp County.

"There's a bullseye right now over the Tripp area experiencing below-average rains," Gillespie said. "There's a good chance of picking up decent rains."

Larson said with the winds and the heat in his area, though, moisture can be gone basically the next day.

Audie Larson, Monty's brother, said he is worried about water quality issues causing sickness in their calves despite their vaccinations. And Monty Larson said if their cover crops don't grow, their cattle won't have as much to graze on over the winter, which will force the family to buy more feed for the winter months.

Audie Larson, said they leave about 60 percent of their land for grass pasture and use rotation so the grass doesn't get too short. But, it's not a solution, and the Larsons expect to have to buy feed this coming winter.

The last time the family dealt with drought was in 2012-13, when Audie Larson said they had to purchase over $1 million in feed.

The drought may also affect crop yields the following year. If the cover crops don't grow, less nitrogen will be replenished in the soil, and their roots will not be able decrease soil compaction as well, Monty Larson said. This may cause issues for their next crop.

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It seems their land is right where the clouds have split this year, Monty Larson said. Sometimes there will be clouds five miles south and five miles north, but their land will receive no rainfall, causing crops to have stunted growth and become dry. Because of this, the Larsons have water issues, but areas south of their property have not been hit as hard by the drought conditions.

In threat of drought, the "go-to" is the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which can help with emergency loans. The issue the Larsons are facing is that disaster declarations are done by county. Audie Larson said they should instead be broken up by township because the weather can vary so much within different counties.

Though Audie Larson is unsure of the requirements in order to apply for a disaster declaration, he believes the area has to be a D3, aka extreme drought, designation for three weeks.

"Some people look at disaster declarations as handouts, but they're not," Monty Larson said. "They don't replace the total loss, but they help. And the farmers spend that money on things like buying feed."

Larson said that money goes back into the economy because the person selling feed then spends that money. And, in times of drought, farmers and ranchers tend to cut costs wherever they can to buy feed in the winter.

The South Dakota State Drought Task Force met July 11, but the proposals to relieve the drought issues are waiting to be approved by the governor, said Jason Bauder from the Office of Emergency Management.

"Certainly the first step is coming together as a task force, which allows multiple agencies to really sit down and get everyone on the same page," Bauder said.

Fires in the West River region is the main reason the task force came together, so Bauder said that has been the main concern.

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The task force is planning to have a meeting July 25 to evaluate the drought and see if conditions have worsened.

Though the Larsons are managing the lack of moisture right now, they are hoping for rain.

"What's saving us right now is that there was a lot of moisture last fall when we were harvesting ... and over winter," Monty Larson said. "But, now it's all used up."

Related Topics: DROUGHTAGRICULTURE
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