PLATTE - After a wet growing season and a late harvest, South Dakota farmers may be waiting longer than usual to both buy seed and put it in the ground.
Todd DenBesten, owner of Dakota's Best Seed in Platte, said most farmers buy corn and soybean seed before Jan. 1, but he suspects more business could be coming in the near future.
"This year, being with the wet fall we had and the late harvest, I would say there's probably quite a bit of business that's not committed yet out there," DenBesten said.
Several areas in southeastern South Dakota were affected by flooding from spring through fall 2018, including areas along the James River that flooded for the first time in five or six years.
"Having a very wet fall or spring can be just as detrimental as drought," said Sara Bauder, an SDSU Extension agronomy field specialist based in Mitchell. "It was very region specific, but last year, many farmers had reduced yields or weren't able to get crops planted or harvested in a timely manner, and this most likely caused yield loss in those areas."
In other areas, Bauder said farmers had great yields, so overall state totals may not reflect the difficulties many operations faced.
The wet season could yet have further impact. A wet fall harvest may likely translate to a late planting season, Bauder said, as spring rains compounded with already saturated soils may be likely culprits for delaying planting.
Despite record-setting rainfall in cities like Sioux Falls, Yankton and Vermillion, no flood disasters were declared, according to Owen Anderson, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Davison and Hanson counties.
"There were local wet areas in 2018, but there were no local qualifying flood disaster declarations in 2018, so no FSA flood assistance was provided locally," Anderson said.
Anderson said FSA could still help affected farmers recoup some of their loss through the Ag Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, but 2018 benefits have yet to be determined, and payments, if any, would not be issued until October.
Combined with longtime concerns about crop prices, Bauder said some South Dakota producers may be in low spirits going into the year.
"I think some farmers are discouraged with the depressed farm economy we've had for quite some time now, in addition to the difficult moisture conditions we've had this last growing season," Bauder said. "But again, it's just part of the profession. We can't control the weather or the markets, not single-handedly anyway."
Planting for the future
For farmers worried about future flooding, corn may be an attractive option, as the tall crop is somewhat more durable at maturity than soybeans, Bauder said.
Even early in the planting season, larger seeds, like corn seeds, fare better in wet conditions as compared to other common South Dakota annual crops, but Bauder said standing water still poses a problem for all plants, and results during flooding will vary based on an operation's field management and weather.
Bauder recommended no-till practices, cover crops, leaving crop residue on fields and grazing livestock on fields instead of mechanically removing residue as a few ideas to protect soils against erosion and flooding.
Many southern South Dakota farmers following one or more of those principles this past year - especially those with established no-till lands - often seemed more able to harvest earlier and leave fewer ruts in their fields, Bauder said, but it's not a guaranteed solution to water build up.
SDSU Extension Water Resources Field Specialist David Kringen added drain tile, grassed waterways and filter strips to the list, and he warned that runoff in fields may also leave sediment in local water supplies.
Back in Platte, DenBesten said more farmers buy seed for cover crops and crop diversification every year.
"I get calls every day from people looking for something different than what they've been doing. They are looking to diversify their rotations," DenBesten said. "They're looking for other options besides the same old, same old. You keep doing what you're doing, you keep getting what you've been getting."
Dakota's Best Seed also receives more interest in its non-GMO corn seed every year, which DenBesten attributes in part to being a less expensive option that lets farmers cut input costs without sacrificing yield.
DenBesten expects South Dakota farming operations to continually become more diversified, and he believes the resulting improvement in soil structure will benefit everyone.
"That doesn't happen overnight, but what you'll see is a definite reduction in weed pressure and soil runoff and erosion, and basic soil health is going to translate to less herbicides, less pesticides and less commercial fertilizer that's going to have to be applied," Den Besten said. "Everything starts with the dirt."