The drought across South Dakota deepened a little while shrinking slightly in area, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map released on Thursday, with 80 percent of the state in some stage of drought as of July 25, down from 82 percent a week earlier. But the amount of the state’s geography rated in extreme drought increased from 11 percent to 15 percent, with large parts of Sully and Haakon Counties in extreme drought.
The drought is hitting much of the western United States with 11 percent of the lower 48 states in moderate drought or worse. But the worst parts of the drought are in the Dakotas and Montana, according to the Drought Monitor coordinated out of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
It’s pushing the prices for wheat and hay higher as the drought has shriveled-up fields, pastures and rangeland.
Doug Goehring, North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner, told The Associated Press that Americans might be seeing higher prices for bread, beans and vegetable oil in part because of the drought hurting his state’s crops.
“There have been people in this business for five decades who have said they have never seen conditions like this,” Goehring said.
One crop-insurance agent in Pierre told the Capital Journal this week that things look grim, with lots of fields in central South Dakota ready to be surveyed and rated as pretty-well zeroed-out, except that it’s better to wait until later to get the full damage showing clearly.
Many wheat fields were baled for hay because they didn’t produce enough grain to make it worth running a combine over them, farmers and crop watchers have said.
Fires have been a problem, as well, with one woman killed this week south of Rapid City when a grass fire took her home.
The Drought Impact Reporter published online by the National Drought Monitor site at the University of Nebraska includes messages gathered from ranchers and farmers in recent days.
One rancher in Ziebach County, northwest of Stanley County on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, reported on July 26: “We have little to no hay and are going to have to find some to buy. The pastures have had little-to-no growth and the stock dams are low or going dry.”
Another rancher, also in Ziebach County, said on July 26: “We received 1.1 inch of rain the entire month of June and only 0.3 inch for the entire month of July thus far. There isn’t any hay to put up; the wheat and oats weren’t worth harvesting, so instead were put up for hay. The oats we did put up for hay tested very high in nitrates, (a common function during a drought) so it won’t be able to be used for feed. The stock dams our cattle rely on for water are drying up, so additional water sources have been implemented from wells and water lines, which are an additional expense to the producer, as well. We generally wean and sell our calves the third week of October, but this year we will have to sell the end of August or first part of September, as we will be out of grass if it doesn’t rain.”
From a rancher/farmer in Jones County, southwest of Fort Pierre, on July 24: “Corn looks like it will yield nothing. Cover crops and grazing crops are not even coming up. Looks like winter grazing will be about 25 percent of normal.”
Consumers could see the price of bread at the grocery counter rise, said Doug Goehring, agriculture commissioner for North Dakota, the nation’s largest producer of spring wheat and second largest grower of winter wheat.
North Dakota farmers also lead the nation in production of navy beans, pinto beans and canola used for vegetable oil, and prices of those products also could be affected, Goehring said.
North Dakota saw a similar deepening but not widening of the drought as the land in “exceptional drought,” the most critical category, increased to 7..62 percent from 6.35 percent a week earlier. Meanwhile, the area of the state in some level of drought went up to 79.2 percent from 74.3 percent.
The annual industry Wheat Quality Tour found hard-red, spring-wheat yields projected to hit 38 bushels an acre, 17 percent under the five-year average, and even that sampling missed out on the worst areas in the western part of the state where much of the spring-wheat crop was fried.
The drought has pushed demand for the high-protein, hard-red, spring wheat growing mostly in the Dakotas, with prices well above $7 a bushel, showing a premium of about 50 percent over lower- protein, winter wheats.
Montana saw its area rated as in the most critical drought category – “exceptional” – rise dramatically to 12 percent from 1.5 percent a week earlier, Montana has as much land as the Dakotas combined – 147,000 square miles – meaning 15,000 square miles in northeast Montana sank into exceptional drought in the past week.
None of South Dakota is the “exceptional” category, while North Dakota is at 7.62 percent of its land in that slot.
Montana has 49 percent of its land in some phase of drought, up from 45.4 percent a week earlier.
Prices for hay have increased by about 70 percent over the past month or so even as the USDA told landowners they could cut CRP acres for hay beginning July 16.
The nonprofit Farm Rescue based near Fargo has said it’s trucking hay free-of-charge to livestock owners who need it in the Dakotas and Montana and it’s also gathering donated hay.
According to the experts at the Drought Monitor, the ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere “maintained its grip,” across the country, suppressing rains and locking in high temperatures. Rain systems that moved in from the Pacific stalled out over the Midwest, as Pierre residents watched the other day: huge, storm-cloud systems forming, but resulting in little rain that fell only on scattered locations.
As of Thursday, Pierre has received only 7.27 inches of precipitation this year, only 56 percent of the 30-year-norm of 12.96 inches from Jan. 1-July 26, according to the National Weather Service. Other locations in central and western South Dakota show similar deficits.
Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels were rated short or very short over 82 percent of South Dakota’s fields as of Sunday, July 23, according to USDA’s weekly crop-progress report, with stock-water supplies rated short or very short over 61 percent of the rangeland. Pasture and range conditions were rated poor or very poor over 73 percent of the state. Alfalfa-crop conditions were poor or very poor over 81 percent of the state’s fields.
The spring-wheat crop was rated poor or very poor over 76 percent of the fields; fair over 16 percent, good on 7 percent and excellent on 1 percent of the acres. By Sunday, 28 percent of the spring wheat was harvested, ahead of the five-year average of 17 percent by now.
Corn fields were rated in poor or very poor shape on 37 percent of the acres, fair on 35 percent, good on 27 percent, excellent on 1 percent.
Soybeans were rated in poor or very poor shape on 34 percent of fields, fair on 41 percent, good on 23 percent and excellent on 2 percent.
The crop-condition survey figures does raise the question: is it the same 10 or so farmers who have all the crops accounting for the fields rated as the 1 percent of acres in excellent shape?
The sunflower crop could still turn out not half bad, with enough time for rains to help repair some of the deficit. The sunflower crop in the state was rated as poor or very poor on 38 percent of the acres, fair on 58 percent and good on 4 percent. Blooming was at 5 percent, behind the five-year average pace of 12 percent by July 23.