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Already dry fields crunched by storm

On Wednesday afternoon west of Stickney, Ronnie Prien, of Stickney, shows the damage left by hail from a weekend storm to his corn. (Sean Ryan/Republic)1 / 2
On Wednesday afternoon west of Stickney, Ronnie Prien, of Stickney, shows the damage left by hail from a weekend storm to his corn. (Sean Ryan/Republic)2 / 2

STICKNEY -- The scene around Ronnie Prien's farm is one he's all too familiar with.

"The first year I farmed, I got hail. I've been through this rodeo before," he said with a chuckle.

After nearly 30 years of farming, he's seen his share of tough summers in the fields. Prien's farm south of Stickney was in the path of those hardest hit by a weekend storm that was estimated to be about 65 miles long, stretching from White Lake to near Scotland. The storm was about 5 to 6 miles wide at its strongest point, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. It carried heavy winds of about 70 mph and hail ranging from ping-pong-ball-sized to baseball-sized, and damaged residences in Stickney, Corsica and Delmont.

The storm's after effects are particularly tough for a part of South Dakota that already was in a drought classification before the damaging winds and hail hit. Prien said it had been about a month since his farm -- which grows corn and soybeans -- had a sizeable rainfall.

"We've been getting spoon-fed and we were getting to the point where it would either rain or it was going to be a drought," he said, adding that a neighbor had kept detailed precipitation records and compared this year to 2012's drought. While 2014 hasn't been nearly as hot, the area was 4.25 inches of rain behind the 2012 pace from March 1 to July 1.

As of the July 22 edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor, all of Aurora County was listed as a moderate drought area, along with parts of Douglas, Charles Mix, Brule, Jerauld, Sanborn and Davison counties. Outside of those areas included parts of central South Dakota that had been deemed unseasonably dry.

On the edges of the storm's path, there's more wind damage with rows of corn all being pushed one way. Besides stripped leaves and damaged stalks of corn, there's battered soybean fields. It's thinned out the wildlife that Prien has seen in his fields in the days since the storm, as well.

"I wouldn't advise the GF&P to take their brood counts in here," Prien said, referring to the upcoming pheasant counts. "Squirrels, rabbits -- we haven't seen anything in the yard."

Anthony Bly, a soil field specialist for South Dakota State University Extension, said it will come down to what insurers have to say and the adjusters deciding what will be salvageable.

"The farmer does own the field and the crop, but the insurer is the one who underwrites the field and once it becomes damaged, it's really their responsibility to decide what will happen, whether that's declaring it a total loss or whatever it may be," he said.

He said corn crops are a field-by-field scenario, whereas soybeans knocked on the ground are a complete loss. But because August is such a big month for yields for a soybean plant, there's still a chance to salvage something in those instances. If not, a short season cover crop could be considered to save soil nutrients, such as oats, sorghum or grasses, Bly said.

Kevin Steckelberg, district director for the Farm Service Agency in Yankton, said they've been reviewing the damage in the area all week. They will prepare a report for the state office tomorrow to figure out if the area can be considered a disaster area and potentially make federal funding available to those affected.

He's been in the position for 17 years, and said that while he's seen severe hail storms before, it's rare to see a rain and wind combination that stretches as far as Saturday's did.

"This is a little bit out of the ordinary," he said. "There's some of those fields where they're really battered and there's no leaves on that corn."

Prien said he's not too worried as insurance adjusters sort out what happens next. There's some concern about his windbreaks for his cattle, as the thinned out tree lines won't stop as much winter wind as it used to.

"It's agriculture; you've got to be patient," he said. "You get used to being patient."