Drought a hot topic at DakotafestDrought conditions in South Dakota have caused strain, to say the least. At Dakotafest in Mitchell, producers, agronomists and equipment company representatives this week are noting how desperately the state needs rain, but many remain optimistic about plowing ahead despite the dry weather.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
Drought conditions in South Dakota have caused strain, to say the least. At Dakotafest in Mitchell, producers, agronomists and equipment company representatives this week are noting how desperately the state needs rain, but many remain optimistic about plowing ahead despite the dry weather.
This year’s Dakotafest is the largest yet, said Ray Bianchi, vice president and group show director for the event. Attendance averages 40,000 people each year, and early attendance figures at this year’s Dakotafest were up about 20 percent, he said.
“Today is our biggest day,” he said Wednesday. “This year is the first time we’ve sold out.”
Just as the drought hasn’t impacted attendance, it also has not done much to discourage producers, who spent the day Wednesday at Dakotafest. Rather, the drought has forced producers to plan ahead as they expected the hot weather to make for a poor crop this year.
Bill Platz, president and agronomist of Crop Tech Inc., Mitchell, was at Dakotafest Wednesday and said many farmers in the area are not as distressed as some may think.
“We’ve had worse droughts than this,” he said. “At least there will be a crop this year.”
Platz is out in farmers’ fields every week consulting with them about crops and conditions.
He said some farmers expected to have no crop once conditions turned so dry. Many have already cut corn and some soybeans for silage and hay.
“The beans are only 1 or 2 feet tall right now,” Platz said. “Northeast of town the crop is good and if we get some rain soon, it could be better.”
He said soybeans are about two to three weeks ahead of schedule because they were planted early and had some really good growing days. However, the bean pods are between one-half and three-quarters full. He said a good rain in the next few weeks would help the beans fill out and be a productive crop.
Livestock producers are also struggling, but are optimistic the drought conditions will pass.
Mick Varilek, who owns Varilek Angus outside Geddes, and Jim Bender, who owns Bender Ranch outside Kimball, said they’ve had to make some changes this year, but nothing they haven’t planned for.
Both producers had to wean calves a month sooner than usual, mainly due to the lack of pasture land. To compensate, the calves have been using lick tubs.
Bender said he’s planning to provide feed in October compared to late December last year. This is also due to lack of pasture land.
As of this week, pasture land is sparse.
“Our pasture is over-grazed. It’s not bad now, but it can be if we don’t get some rain soon,” Varilek said.
Both say that some moisture in the fall would help pastures recover and build up for next year. But they are realistic about the possibility that if sufficient rain does not fall, next year will be tough.
Bender said the last good rain in the Kimball area was on June 20, so corn crops, including his, have already been combined.
Varilek said much of his corn crop is being used for cheap feed.
“We’ve got to make these changes to adjust,” he said.
Nationally, drought conditions have forced producers to sell off cattle early for slaughter, simply to provide better conditions for the cattle kept. This is not the case for Bender or Varilek so far.
Both producers will do pregnancy checks early this year and said the cows that are not pregnant will likely be sold off early to allow more feed for the others. But neither is dismayed by this prospect.
“The price for slaughter cows is still pretty good,” Bender said.
“The guy that’s going to hurt the most this year is the one feeding $8 corn to fatten his cattle,” Varilek added.
John Bruner, owner of Bruner Limousin, about 15 miles from Madison, said drought conditions are less devastating near his operation.
“We’ve had some rain in the last few weeks,” he said. “But we’ve had to wean calves early.”
Pastureland is also suffering on Bruner’s property, with cattle having grazed it to the ground. Bruner said many producers in his area have already started feeding this year’s hay crop to livestock in order to allow pastureland to grow up again.
Bruner has not had to sell off cattle to early slaughter yet, but he will likely sell earlier than normal.
“There just won’t be enough winter feed,” he said.
Area equipment companies at Dakotafest are experiencing slower times, and maintenance appointments are few and far between.
At Fred Haar Co. in Freeman, which sells John Deere equipment, sales associate Nathan Terveen said producers are still pricing equipment, but few are buying at this point.
“They have been active on used combines,” he said, referring to trade-ins from last year.
The company is struggling to sell off many trade-ins before the harvest is in full swing, he said.
When drought conditions started to impact the area, Terveen said the company expected business to slow.
On the maintenance side, Lowayne Goosen, maintenance technician, said producers are only bringing in equipment when its needs to be fixed. Maintenance at the shop is not a popular option at this point. Producers are performing their own maintenance and repairs, if they can.
Robert Fuerst, manager at Ag Systems Inc. in Mitchell, said the drought has impacted business severely. The company sells Case IH sprayers and fertilizer applicators. He said sales are down on parts and equipment.
“We have a wait-and-see attitude,” Fuerst said.
“It’s happened in the past and it’ll happen again,” he said of the drought.
Maintenance service is also slow at Ag Systems. He said many producers are pushing back maintenance on their equipment as much as possible.