Western South Dakota worries about droughtWith little snowfall, farmers, ranchers evaluate operations.
By: Mikkel Pates , Forum News Service
Snow storms are causing traffic hazards in the eastern Dakotas this winter, but largely have skipped over western South Dakota.
Ranchers and farmers to the west recently expressed concern about the lack of moisture.
Holding out for rain, expecting cow sell-off
EAGLE BUTTE — Troy Vrooman, of Eagle Butte, and his son, Jace, run about 250 cows and farm about 300 acres. “We’re sitting in pretty tough shape for this coming year,” Troy says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of cows selling this spring if we don’t get some moisture. The ground’s pretty depleted right now. This last year, people kind of got by. We had a lot of marginal hay crops and some pretty decent corn, but we’re pretty depleted now for ground moisture.”
Farms in the area had quite a bit of hay carryover from previous years.
Vrooman says his pastures are eaten down and in tough shape, but he isn’t making any firm cow-selling plans — yet. “I think a lot of people are holding out, just seeing what happens with the snow and rain; holding on to your numbers as long as you can,” Vrooman says.
7 inches in 19 months
QUINN — Randy Clark, 49, of Quinn, and his son, Hayden, 20, run Clark Ranch 11 miles northeast of Quinn. The Clarks had been running 400 cows, but slimmed down to 300 cows in late November 2012.
“In this deal, we’re going to have to take it as the weather comes,” Clark says. “If we don’t have good moisture the next couple of months, we’ll further reduce the herd. We’re all in the same boat, basically. There’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to start liquidating herds. We’re going to have to have inches and inches of rain and feet of snow to get us out of this deal. It’s early yet, but we’ve got to start getting something soon.”
During a blizzard in mid-February, the Clarks were disappointed to end up with less than an inch of snow.
Last winter was the warmest winter on record in the Quinn area, and the driest. In the past 19 months, Clark Ranch has received only about 7 inches of moisture. “It’s devastating,” Clark says.
The Clarks don’t do any farming. They put up hay for a living. “That’s our cash crop,” Clark says. He’s had to buy a lot of hay.
In 2011, the ranch put up 8,000 bales, and none in 2012. He went about 90 miles away to put up a couple of quarters of Conservation Reserve Program hay to get the ranch through the winter.
“We put up a lot of straw about 50 miles away,” he says. “That’s what’s getting us through. If we don’t get moisture this year, we don’t get a hay crop, I’m going to liquidate the herd — sell it completely. There’s no two ways around that deal.”
The family has sold enough cows that Randy can handle more of the operation himself, so his son, Hayden is planning on going to Mitchell Technical Institute to power line technician school, as a back-up plan.
The ranch has been in his family since 1907. “This outfit’s paid for; that’s the sweet deal,” Randy says. “You can always buy cows back. Of course, when you go to buy them back, they’re always more expensive, but there’s nothing we can do about that. And hopefully, we’ll have moisture between now and spring.”
The next month or six weeks will bring a major turn in the markets, Clark says. The recent bullish cattle-onfeed report and Japanese opening markets to 30-month and younger cattle are two major positives for the market. “The cow herd is at a 60-year low,” Clark says. “We should be in the driver’s seat. If we get some moisture, we will be.”
Planning to plant ‘for rain’
PHILIP — Lucas Mayfield, operations manager for CHS elevator in Philip, says grain handling numbers this fall and winter have made for a good year.
“The winter wheat turned out real good. A lot of guys were worried about it at first, but it come through,” Mayfield says, estimating 45 to 50 bushels per acre. Little spring wheat was planted in 2012. Corn yields were down, but the crop has only proliferated in this area in the past three or four years.
“A lot of it was cut for silage,” Mayfield says. “Guys fed it. We didn’t take in as much grain corn as the (previous) couple years.” Prior to 2012, yields were running about 75 bushels an acre.
Philip CHS acquired a new bin site so it was able to take in any grain farmers wanted to deliver at harvest. The elevator can load 35 rail cars at a time on a Canadian Pacific line. The majority is wheat, but there is also some millet and milo. They have a feed mill and most of the corn goes into feed.
Mayfield says everyone tells him they’re making cropping plans “as if it was going to rain — they’re planning for rain.” The area is above-average for moisture in January and February, but Mayfield hasn’t received a lot of snow.
Cow numbers aid beef prices
PHILIP — Thor Roseth, manager of the Philip Livestock Auction, says his regular winter sales on Tuesdays through late February so far have been good.
With the higher price of grain, beef sales had been sluggish in early January. “There were fewer cattle on feed this year than the year previous and those reports are pretty consistent,” Roseth says. The sale on Jan. 29 included 5,000 head of feeder cattle. Most were a little bigger than what had been seen earlier, but still well-received.
“I think with these shorter numbers and looking into the future, I think you’d better own some cattle if you’re going to make some money.”