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Mother Nature uncooperative in planting process

Fields are still covered in water south of Ethan in Davison County, as pictured here Thursday. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Receiving no help from Mother Nature, South Dakota farmers will need to approach this spring planting season a little differently.

Extended cold and wet temperatures for the year have put the pressure on the planting process this summer, making spring difficult for farmers. And the forecast isn't much better for the next seven days, with the chance for severe weather in the evening hours and overnight today into Saturday.

The National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls said several rounds of potentially heavy rain — multiple inches of rain — is possible from today into next week. The area with the highest outlook for rain ranges from northeast Nebraska to southwestern Minnesota and covers the southeastern corner of South Dakota.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said there had been less than two full days that have been suitable for fieldwork. The percentage of corn planted in the state was estimated at 4 percent, behind 19 percent last year at this time and well-behind 54 percent, which is the five-year average for South Dakota.

South Dakota State University Extension State Climatologist Laura Edwards said that all progress in the Cornbelt region is much farther behind than in most years.

"From knowledge I have received, this is the third-slowest start in the Cornbelt region since 1993," she said. "Excess water, snow runoff, and a lot of rain has really limited the amount of drying that has been able to happen."

She said that the National Climate Prediction Center outlook from June to August is leaning towards wetter and cooler conditions than average.

"In the next seven days, a lot of rain is coming that will really set things back," said Edwards, who said from Mitchell heading east, 2 to 4 inches of rain is expected.

These conditions have been a recurring trend in eastern South Dakota, according to Edwards.

"This is a trend we have been continually seeing in the eastern South Dakota region," Edwards said. "The area has grown 20 to 30 percent wetter over the last 50-60 years."

Short planting window means alternative options

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture says soybean yield potential typically decreases, as planting dates progress into June. Previous South Dakota State University research has shown that soybeans will lose 0.25 to 1 bushel per acre per day when planted after the optimum planting date, which varies with location and variety.

In addition, corn that does not receive the required heat to mature properly results in a product with low test weight, poor quality and increased drying costs.

South Dakota seed dealers Todd Den Besten, of Dakota's Best Seed in Platte, and Justin Fruechte, of Millborn Seeds in Brookings, suggest if planting is delayed producers should consider planting early-maturing varieties to avoid these issues.

Den Besten said many farmers will be looking for alternative solutions to planting traditional grain crops, such as short season grasses that can be planted and used for feed.

"A lot of what people are going for in regards to late planting, as the deadline approaches for insurance, are cover crops," Den Besten said.

He said that strictly grain farmers are going for cover crop seedings to utilize excess moisture and build their soil through summer. Things may look bleak for many, but options are still available, Den Besten said.

"Diverse cover crop mixes that they can plant in the ground to get the soil covered throughout the whole month of June are always an option, along with the possibility of planting alfalfa and grass," he said.

Justin Fruechte from Millborn Seeds said his company does a lot of cover crop mixes, such as radishes, turnips, sorghums, and legumes.

He said the number one question that farmers had been calling in with is, "What can we harvest for feed at this point?"

"Warm season grasses are the way to go," Fruechte said of his response.

Fruechte, Den Besten, and Edwards all agree that this year's farming season is going to be a struggle, but there are options available to provide hope for South Dakota farmers.

"It is going to be a really tough go this spring, but it is too early to throw in the towel just yet," Edwards said.

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