Goodbye flood, hello droughtArea crops burning up in hot, dry weather.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Rain is a four letter word that’s on everyone’s lips these days.
“The corn is starting to hurt pretty bad,” said Chet Edinger, whose family’s farming operation, Edinger Brothers Partnership, grows corn, wheat and soybeans on acreages in Aurora, Davison and Sanborn counties.
“We need rain, and soon, or it will be a short harvest this fall.”
After two years of abundant moisture and even flooding in South Dakota, rain is suddenly needed to save crops and alleviate the deepening threat of an extended drought.
“Crop conditions in this area are not the best, and right south of here they’re pretty tough,” said Wade Horstman, grain merchandiser for the CHS Farmers Alliance elevator in Mitchell.
“You get west, over by Chamberlain, things are looking a little bit better, but they’re going to need rain, too. Nationwide, things are looking pretty dire right now.”
Anticipated lower yields are sending grain prices soaring, he said, with some corn prices at $7.14 per bushel on Monday and soybeans at $15.44 a bushel.
Edinger said corn plants have been curling in the heat, trying to conserve moisture. Soybeans are also feeling the heat, he said, and plant leaves are “cupping” from lack of moisture, with water needs for that crop reaching the critical stages.
“Corn is starting to tassel and that’s the time of highest moisture need,” Edinger said.
The lone bright spot has been a strong wheat crop, said Edinger, which is coming in better than expected, but at fewer acres than are needed to offset potential losses in other crops.
Mike Goldammer, who farms in Davison, Sanborn, Miner and Hanson counties, said his crops are faring between “good and not so good.”
“The not-so-good is burning up, and the good needs rain in the next few days or it’s going to be not good. If we don’t get rain in six or seven days, it’s going to be toast. That’s how it is.”
Soybeans still have a chance, said Goldammer, but only if rains come soon. The crop won’t make it to August without moisture, he predicted.
The U.S. Drought Monitor for July 3 showed that nearly 96 percent of South Dakota is experiencing extremely dry conditions and 47 percent of the state is in moderate drought. A new drought map will be released Thursday.
One year ago there were no drought conditions in South Dakota.
Which begs the question, how could things turn badly so fast?
State Climatologist Dennis Todey, speaking by phone Monday from a meeting of state climatologists in Florida, said dry conditions started with the fall 2011 harvest and didn’t improve.
“We went into this year with very dry soil conditions, which put us at a level of risk,” he said.
There were occasional heavy rains from White Lake to Flandreau this spring, Todey said, but precipitation really began falling off in May and June with warmer-than-average conditions, that increased water evaporation.
Climatologically speaking, South Dakota is “between La Nina and El Nino climate phases.”
“We were in La Nina last spring and winter and by late spring we had gone to an in-between phase, and it’s likely we’ll get back to El Nino in the fall.”
El Nino produces wetter conditions, and La Nina, the opposite. El Nino is characterized by unusually warm temperatures and La Nina by unusually cool temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
South Dakota experienced a La Nina effect last winter, Todey said, with mild temperatures driven by colder than average waters in the equatorial Pacific. La Nina can create drier and hotter summer conditions in South Dakota.
“But this is not a La Nina impact,” Todey said. “This is something else that is driving these hotter and drier conditions.”
Climate experts haven’t decided what that something else is, he said.
That “something” has established a fairly strong high pressure ridge across the middle of the country that has pushed most storm systems through North Dakota and Minnesota. Duluth, for instance, received 8 inches a few weeks ago.
There have been storms coming through, Todey said, but South Dakota has missed out on most of them.
“This is not a South Dakota thing,” he said. “All the Corn Belt is involved in this, and most of the southern three-quarters of the country is involved in some sort of drought right now.”
There will be some storms, Todey said, but they won’t be widespread.
“They’ve come through in places, but the storms have been fairly isolated and that’s going to continue. Places that are lucky enough to catch one of these events will get some benefits.
“On a widespread basis, we’re likely to stay warmer than average and likely to stay drier than average — and that’s not what we need right now.”
The economics of a crop failure are daunting. Most farmers have crop insurance to cover about 65 to 75 percent of losses, said Mike Goldammer.
That won’t be enough, he said, to cover his $435 an acre input costs for his corn or $300 for soybeans, and he expects to take some financial punishment if crops fail.
Goldammer — a farming veteran of 35 years — has seen other hard years.
Is this the worst he’s seen?
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’ll tell you in two weeks.”