Heat and drought taking a toll on the ag industry

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– Hot, dry conditions continue throughout KELOLAND, and they are making a negative impact on the state’s agricultural commodities.

Connie Strunk, Plant Pathology Field Specialist at SDSU Extension, said with the combined drought and heat conditions, they anticipate issues within fields for crop growth and development, most recently the small grain crops.

The heat can have drastic effects on the yield, Strunk said, which will be determined soon whether there will be sterile heads and if there will be much for grain this year and how heavy or light the weight of the kernels will be.

There could also be issues within alfalfa and pastureland, she said. Once farmers are clipping, they are not seeing much for re-growth. Producers are wondering if they will see a second or third cutting, which isn’t typically a concern.

Within the corn and soybeans, Strunk said planting was a little earlier this year. Both of these crops are in the vegetative stage and farmers are starting to see some drought stress.

Drought stress in corn is when the leaves start to roll or start to turn grey. Stress in soybeans can be seen when the leaves start to flip and the trifoliates clamp together to try to protect themselves.

In corn, producers can start to see some loss when there is drought stress within V6 to V8 stages. They will start to see there not being as many rows of cornels on the cobs, Strunk said. V8 up to V17, they can start to see fewer kernels per row.

The heat not only harms the plant during the vegetative stage, but also during pollination, she said. Heat can lower the pollination and possibly kill the ability for pollination if the temperatures are above 100 degrees.

Another concern is the water loss within the rapid growth of the plant, Strunk said. It is important during late vegetative to early blister stages to get a lot of moisture within the corn. For soybeans, it is important during early podding to middle of the filling stage.

When the roots don’t have access to water, there are also issues with nutrient uptake, Strunk said.

With small grains, right now it is a waiting game to see how pollination went because there was some moisture throughout areas of the state, she said, which will hopefully help. Since corn and soybeans are in the vegetative stages, they are getting closer to the timeline where yields will be affected by the conditions.

“It is too early at this point to determine at this point what we are going to look at for yield or even a yield loss,” Strunk said. “So it’s really that waiting game just to see if we get that moisture that we so desperately need here within the state. If not, we are going to start to see some issues.”

Along with the heat stress symptoms, plant growth will also be stunted, Strunk said. They will be shorter without as much leaf surface.

If producers are set up for irrigation, some of them have begun utilizing that resource, she said.

Producers that practice no-till or minimal tillage on their fields are seeing some advantages over those that practice conventional tillage, Strunk said. This is because these practices conserve some of the moisture within the field, protecting the soil and infiltration.

For those using conventional tillage, right now there is not a lot they can do to counteract the conditions, she said.

“They have done the best that they can by making their seed selection and setting up with their seed treatments and weed control,” Strunk said.

Because of the drought, when farmers applied the pre-emergent herbicide, they had some issues with it not controlling the weeds, she said.

“Well, we might have had a late flush of weeds because we didn’t have that moisture,” Strunk said. “But the weeds are still going to come because they are resilient and so we still need to control those weeds so we have less of an issue at harvest time and then in the future in that field.”


South Dakota’s winter and spring wheat crops are taking a beating from current conditions.

The wheat crop in the state is typically half winter and half spring wheat, Reid Christopherson, Executive Director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission said. Wheat accounts for about 1.3 million acres in the state spanning from Nebraska to North Dakota focused more on the central portion of South Dakota.

Spring wheat conditions in Central South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Marv Schumacher.

Both of the crops are in a critical phase right now, which couldn’t be worse timing with the conditions producers are facing as they are entering the heading phase, into the pollination and into the grain fill stage, he said.

“For the winter wheat, probably less than one month away from harvest, so we are going to be watching it very closely over these next few days,” Christopherson said.

Winter wheat harvest could be a little earlier than normal this year, he said, depending on the next few days. Typically, in South Dakota, winter wheat harvest will start right after July 4.

In addition to the heat, producers are still battling some of the issues seen from a late frost, he said, which isn’t normal. The crop got stunted a few times earlier so the crop is a little shorter.

Now as they are going into grain fill stage, the moisture is critical to not only maintain the leaves for the photosynthesis process, but also to provide the nutrients to fill the grain cornels, Christopherson said.

The ideal conditions for a good wheat crop would not be this warm and dry, he said, although extra rain can sometimes bring on disease issues.

“The wheat does seem to favor some heat stress right at the very end as it is kind of finishing, before kind of setting some protein and also for helping to dry that crop for efficient harvesting, but this heat is a little extreme and a little early,” Christopherson said.

If there is heat stress at this point, the biggest thing a grower will see is an impact on yield, he said.

The winter wheat may have more of an advantage than the spring wheat this season, as it is going through the pollination process and into the grain filling stage. The spring wheat harvest might be two to four weeks behind normal, Christopherson said.

Spring wheat conditions in Central South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Marv Schumacher.

In other years, the stresses would have been different on the wheat, possibly facing diseases, he said, which are more common when there is higher moisture and higher humidity.

The desired moisture varies in different parts of the state, Christopherson said. It depends on getting the moisture at the right times, and one of those times is right now as the crop is moving into grain fill.

North central South Dakota is the driest region right now and remains dry down through the entire central part of the state, where the wheat belt is, he said. There have been some places that have been fortunate enough to see some spots of rainfall.


The heat’s impact on crops also impacts the cattle industry.

Heat and drought can impact the cattle in many ways depending on the type of cattle operation, Eric Jennings, President of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association said.

As cattle in feedlots get closer to slaughter, they are getting fatter and they have a heavy insulative layer and it is very hard for them to dissipate heat, Jennings said.

“So, when we get these hot days, being cognizant of that and trying to keep those cattle cool so they don’t overheat just like a person can overheat,” Jennings said.

Out on the range, they are trying to keep enough forage for their herd, he said. However, in these drought conditions, the grass isn’t growing very well.

Water is also an issue cattle producers are facing, Jennings said. Stock dams are going to get low, and the water can build up some toxicities from algae and other solids.

Conditions are looking worse than normal, he said, but the drought really started during the middle of last year.

“We didn’t notice it as much last year just because it was such a good wet year in 2019, we kind of lived off of our subsoil moisture in 2020, now used all that up, the wonderfully open warm winter that we had wasn’t very good for moisture and so we are kind of paying that consequence now,” Jennings said.

The growing conditions in April and May were not very good, Jennings said, it was pretty cool.

“Between the cool weather and the dryness, we really didn’t get very much production on our early season grasses,” Jennings said. “That’s what a lot of west river ranchers rely on for their hay crop, is some early season growth, so we are very short on hay crop. The pastures are pretty tough shape.”

Pasture conditions this year. Photo courtesy of Eric Jennings.

As they look toward this upcoming winter, the hay crop is a concern.

“I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody north of the Interstate that thought they were going to get a good hay crop, or any hay crop at all in western South Dakota,” Jennings said.

It is important for producers to identify their cattle feed needs to get through the winter, whether they opt to keep their cows at home and bring hay in, or look for opportunities to ship those cattle out to a feed yard, Jennings said.

Luckily, producers saw a superior hay crop in 2019, he said, and there is still a little bit of that hay left over. However, keeping the nutrient content up is still going to be a concern; some of the older hay is a little rotted and doesn’t have the nutrients that it should. And with high commodity prices, feeding those will be very expensive as well.

It will probably be the best option to ship the cattle out, Jennings said, but with conditions being dry a lot of places, they will be shipping them far away.

Finding feed will be hard and shipping feed in will be expensive, he said.

The biggest thing that the ranchers are having to do to combat these conditions is to depopulate their herds, Jennings said.

“We saw that a lot with those yearling heifers that typically are saved for replacement heifers to put back into the cow herd to breed and put back into the cow herd, a lot of them were hitting the market even as early as March on through May to get rid of those to just reduce the number of mouths they have to feed,” he said.

Pasture conditions this year. Photo courtesy of Eric Jennings.

Starting last week, there were a lot of cow-calf pairs starting to get to the market to help reduce the producers herd, he said.

It’s not good for anybody in the state, Jennings said, because it takes a lot of money out of the South Dakota economy.

Ranchers are also having to haul in water, which is an expense that they don’t normally plan on, he said, and it also requires more equipment and work on their part.

A cow-calf pair will drink close to 25 gallons of water per normal summer day. When it gets above 90 to 95 degrees, that consumption increases.

As the drought continues, there are some measures producers can take, such as weaning the calves early to reduce the nutrient requirements on the mothers, Jennings said.

When entering yet another hot week, Jennings said that producers with fat cows in the feedlot are going to want to provide those cattle with shade and maybe sprinklers to keep them cool while keeping the dust down. For cattle out on the prairie, producers need to be aware of how hot the cattle are, making sure that the flies aren’t getting too bad and keep watching them to make sure other problems don’t arise.

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