Area FSA director: 'It's probably as dry as I've seen it in 20 years here in Buffalo (County)'
Precipitation levels in some west-central South Dakota counties are only 30 to 40 percent of normal, according to the local FSA offices. The proof can be found in the region's stock dams, the majority of which are dry, especially in the region we...
Precipitation levels in some west-central South Dakota counties are only 30 to 40 percent of normal, according to the local FSA offices.
The proof can be found in the region's stock dams, the majority of which are dry, especially in the region west of Highway 281.
"(Stock dams) are probably as low as they've ever been," said Tim Pazour, a farmer/rancher in Brule County. "A lot of them are dry and the ones that do have water, it's not good -- it's muddy."
Most of west-central South Dakota was categorized as having moderate to severe drought on Tuesday by the U.S. Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.
Some counties in the state have received approval for emergency water assistance, including the Brule-Buffalo FSA office, which hopes to get applications to farmers as early as today, according to that office's director, Jim Anderson.
Emergency water assistance shares the cost of putting in temporary or permanent water lines, wells or tanks to supply ranchers and farmers with water where it has run out, Anderson said.
The trouble with the emergency water assistance program is that farmers are required to show that the pasture needing emergency water has enough grass to support cattle and also had water previously. That's tough to do when crops and grasses have also been adversely affected by drought conditions, Anderson said.
Drive west on Interstate 90 and the drought's effects are obvious. While many stock dams east of Highway 281 have at least some water, the ground is much more thirsty to the west. Red Lake, a large lakebed south of Pukwana in Brule County, is completely dry this year.
It doesn't look to get better anytime soon -- the National Weather Service is predicting hot, dry weather through the weekend, with a chance of thunderstorms Friday. Also, the NWS warns that the central and western sections of the state are at a high risk of fire.
Mitchell has received 6.85 inches of precipitation this year, about 6 inches shy of the average.
"The middle of the state, especially north of Pierre, is extremely dry," said Steve Cutler, executive director of the South Dakota Farm Service Agency. "It's pretty significant in the middle of the state and expanding rapidly. The drought is widespread and affects many of our counties."
Pazour said lack of rain and snowfall isn't a new problem for farmers and ranchers in Brule County.
"We have not built a grain bin since 1998," he said. "We really haven't had a good crop since '98. Since 2002, it's been pretty tough going."
Many ranchers have adapted, finding water sources wherever possible, Pazour said.
"We've been dry so many years everyone's got that figured out. They either have a rural water hook-up, they're hauling water, hooking up to a neighbor or ditching water from the farmstead," he said. "Out here, you have to be a survivor or you don't stay here. It just doesn't always rain when it's supposed to."
It's a problem that, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, is prevalent throughout much of the state and is especially bad in the north-central section of the state.
"Buffalo (County) is much drier and critical than Brule," said Anderson. "They'll be moving a lot of cattle up there. It's probably as dry as I've seen it in 20 years here in Buffalo. The March snow is the only thing that carried Brule this far, Buffalo didn't have that, so it's been showing up (worse) there. The conditions are probably as dire as I've seen since I've been here."
Conditions are not as serious in Gregory County, according to Kerry Stiner, District Conservationist for Gregory County for the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
"In a lot of pastures, water is a concern," he said. "Right now, people still have water but it's going down. They're getting low. People are starting to have to move (their cattle) to different pastures."
Pasture conditions are also getting pretty slim in Gregory County, Stiner said.
"Last year was really dry also," he said. "We had early precipitation last year, so we had more hay and forage. We never did get as much grass growing as last year."
So far, Gregory County has not applied for emergency assistance but that's all dependent on the weather, Stiner said.
"I think a lot of it depends on what happens from here on out," he said.