Collin Gronseth is breathing a little easier this spring.
After enduring the wettest year in both Mitchell and South Dakota history in 2019, which made for poor planting and harvesting conditions, area farmers like Gronseth are catching a much-needed break with the dry spring weather.
“We went from record-breaking precipitation last year to getting very little this spring, and that is the only way we were able to get pretty much everything planted this year,” Gronseth said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “We’ve planted early, and we had a really good run at it so far.”
Of the roughly 2,500 acres that the Dimock-based Gronseth plants soybeans, corn and winter wheat on each year, only 40 acres in the Mitchell area have yet to be planted, which he anticipates to be finished soon. Gronseth said he had 84 acres planted at this time last year.
Major progress has been made toward planting in the last two weeks. According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) weekly crop progress report on Monday, corn planted in South Dakota was at 67 percent completion. Two weeks ago, the state was at 38 percent completion for corn planting.
The state had 15 percent of the corn crop in last year at this time, and this year is ahead of the five-year average at this stage of 59 percent. Twenty percent of the crop has emerged from the ground, NASS estimates.
About 40 percent of the state's soybeans are planted, well ahead of just 3 percent at this same time in 2019. Two weeks ago, 11 percent of the state's soybeans were in the ground. Spring wheat planting is also faring well, estimated to be 91 percent complete as of May 17.
Precipitation records were broken all over the state in 2019. Mitchell broke its single-year record for precipitation, getting drenched with 36.5 inches of water, edging out the 1993 record of 36.19 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls. Across South Dakota, 2019 was deemed the wettest year on record by South Dakota State University Extension, dating back 125 years.
As to be expected considering the conditions, the state's farmers had a large dip in production in 2019. Corn was estimated in 2019 year-end surveys at 557 million bushels, down 28 percent compared to 2018, and yields were down by an estimated 16 bushels per acre in 2019. South Dakota farmers produced 146 million bushels of soybeans in 2019, which was down by 42 percent over 2018.
But the difference has been in the precipitation so far this spring. Mitchell received 1.69 inches of precipitation in the months of March and April, providing time for Gronseth and others to get planting accomplished. Mitchell had nearly 6 inches of precipitation during the 2019 combined months of March and April, meaning fields still have plenty of moisture in the ground despite the recent drier weather.
But as fields have been drying out from the record-breaking wet year, Gronseth is thankful the conditions allowed him to plant roughly 90 percent of his crops that stretch from Dimock to Wessington Springs by early May.
“We’re still at peak water-holding capacity underneath the ground, but we are doing good,” Gronseth said. “The moisture we do have in the ground from the wet year will take the crops a long, long way if we don’t get drenched."
While he is rejoicing at the dry spring his crops have experienced thus far, Gronseth knows how Mother Nature can bring unpredictable weather at the drop of a hat, which could drastically affect the health of the crops come fall harvest. Gronseth said receiving as much as 2 inches of rainfall in a short period of time can hurt the crops
“If we get average precipitation this summer, we can go a long way without any moisture,” he said. “We have to use up that groundwater first before we can handle big rain events.”