Late-summer heat deepens drought
South Dakota's drought conditions increased dramatically after last week's record high temperatures.
According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, which was released Thursday, roughly the entire southern half of the state is now in "extreme" drought, the second worst rating on a five-part scale. That's 49.84 percent of the state now in the extreme category, compared to 26 percent last week.
The extreme southeastern corner of the state, including all of Bon Homme County, is in "exceptional" drought, the worst rating. None of the state was in exceptional drought last week, but this week it's 4.77 percent.
The worsening conditions were caused by a heat wave that reached a peak in Mitchell of 103 degrees Aug. 29, breaking a previous record of 100 on the same date in 1961.
Many of the counties in The Daily Republic's print circulation area are experiencing conditions that rival the mid-1980s drought.
Randy Miiller, a farmer southwest of Mitchell, said his yields are varying depending on the field. He's spent nearly his whole life farming, but started his own operation in 1984 and has never seen a drought like this.
"I remember the mid-'80s where one year was tough, but nothing like this," he said.
In a Thursday interview with The Daily Republic in a cornfield just west of Mitchell beside state Highway 37, Miiller said that field is estimated to yield about 100 bushels per acre.
"But, at a field by where I live, we got 7 bushels an acre," he said. "Another field I have by there is appraised at 2 bushels an acre."
In another field Wednesday, it took three hours to fill the hopper because so few plants had ears.
"He would drive blocks before he saw one ear," Miiller added.
Earlier in August, a fellow farmer cut about 250 acres of Miiller's corn for silage. Miiller planted 1,200 acres of the crop this year and expects to combine the remaining 950 acres.
"The interstate seems to be the cutoff this year; the interstate and a few miles south," he said. "South of that is really dry."
Dan Roeder, who farms west of Mitchell, was helping Miiller harvest the field Thursday. In his 23 years of farming, Roeder said he has not seen drought conditions this bad.
He said his corn and soybean crops are going to be very poor. Roeder also sold the crop on two of his cornfields to a livestock farmer who baled it.
Roeder said even if he gets some decent yields, profits will be little to none, even at the high corn and soybean prices.
At the close of business Thursday at the elevator in Mitchell, corn was at $7.83 per bushel and soybeans were at $16.85 per bushel.
Miiller and Roeder both have crop insurance, which will cover some of their losses this year.
"But I'd rather have the yields," Roeder said.
Jack Davis, a South Dakota State University Extension economics field specialist in Mitchell, said the harvest is at least one month early this year due to the hot, dry conditions. Most corn and soybean farmers should expect 50 to 60 percent of last year's yield, Davis said.
"Quite a few have already taken corn for silage," he added.
Davis said rain at this point isn't going to make a difference for the crops. Instead, any rain that falls in the coming weeks will help prepare the soil for next year.