Drought conditions are not abnormal during South Dakota summers.
Yet, droughts are treated as an anomaly by many farmers who don't prepare well enough for when dry conditions occur, according to South Dakota State University Extension Range Field Specialist Pete Bauman. So about 125 farmers and ranchers flocked to Chamberlain earlier this week for an SDSU Extension meeting on drought management to learn if there was a possibility of salvaging this summer and to plan for the future.
"When we are this deep into the summer, it's hard to rectify the situation on the land. It's kind of hard to redo mistakes that have been done already on pastures this summer," Bauman said during a presentation at Chamberlain's AmericInn.
Officials told farmers planning and preparations can be done during a drought year, like 2017, to prepare for future droughts.
When looking toward next year, Bauman suggested utilizing watersheds to build resiliency for another drought situation. Capturing and using every drop of water builds a resiliency for the operation if another drought were to hit in the future.
"Be greedy and stingy with your water," Bauman said
Also creating a drought plan can help alleviate some of the stressors on the land.
For example, more pasture land and grass will be available if farmers begin to destock cattle during the drought season, Bauman explained.
With little grass and pasture left, some farmers and ranchers are looking for emergency feeding options.
Sara Berg, agronomy field specialist, suggested if an area does receive rain, cool season plants could be planted for feed in August. Some of these plants include legumes, brassicas and small grain crops, such as oats or winter wheat.
On the livestock side of an operation, Warren Rusche, SDSU beef feedlot management associate, suggested to wean calves early to save forage. Rusche recommended weaning calves at approximately 90 to 100 days of age, along with providing them a comfortable environment, good corn and feed stuffs.
"Pulling the calves early is a good way to take some pressure off the pastures earlier and save forage and minimize cow cost down the road," Rusche said.
Creating a sustainable operations during drought seasons, like 2017, and non-drought season are also an important part of a drought and ranch plan, officials said. "You are in business for more than one year and if you keep that in mind it's going to be easier to go through that drought plan," Bauman said.
According to State Climatologist Laura Edwards, weather trends will likely continue to be much of the same throughout the rest of summer with hot temperatures and little rain.
The outlook for August temperatures look to continue to be higher than the normal average temperatures in South Dakota and across the country, according to Edwards.
This year's drought is on pace to be in the top five to seven of the worst years in terms of precipitation and evapotranspiration, Edwards said.
The drought conditions swept through rapidly this year as approximately 82 percent of South Dakota is in drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
It's not a surprise to Edwards that the Dakotas are the hardest hit by the drought this year. And with conditions continuing to be hot with little rain, the outlook for the rest of the summer looks grim.
"No surprise the Northern Plains is the epicenter of the drought night now with the worst being up in our area," Edwards said. "I see the drought continuing at the least getting worse before it gets better."