Is there light at the end of the tunnel for producers facing drought?

KELOLAND.com Original

BERESFORD, S.D. (KELO)– Farmers and ranchers across KELOLAND are finally starting to see some rainfall onto their fields this week. However, what is it really going to take to counteract the current drought conditions?

Today we were at the SDSU Southeast Research Farm’s field day talking to producers and extension experts about the effects of rainfall during this drought season.

Anthony Bly, Soil Field Specialist for SDSU extension said it is going to take more than just one rain to get out of the drought.

“That’s the thing, when we were early in the growing season those small plants were heat stressed but not drought stressed because they weren’t using a lot of water,” Bly said. “So later in their reproductive stages of those plants, they need more and more amounts of water every day.”

The drought will look worse and worse if we don’t continue to get rain, Bly said. We will need to see continuous rain events.

“We say an inch a week, can we survive on a half inch a week? Certainly, some good things can come from that” Bly said.

If we are thinking about maximum yields, they need that inch a week, he said.

Right now, the corn roots are going very deep into the soil profile to get the moisture they need, Bly said.

“We need to get water into the soil and soil health is a big impact on that,” he said.

Dry ground is like a sponge, Bly said. The soils with good soil health are going to be able to take any of that water in, no matter really how fast it comes.

“Good soil health, you know, we can take in inches per hour really well,” Bly said. “If that soil is powdery and dry on that soil surface and doesn’t have a lot of structure, that quick rain can form a crust… and then we are going to get some run-off.”

They have seen some erosion in eastern South Dakota where they have gotten some quick rains, even in these very dry conditions, he said.

Southeast Research Farm feels the effects of drought

Peter Sexton, Supervisor of the Southeast Research Farm and an associate professor in the agronomy, horticulture and plant science at SDSU, said the drought has made weed control more difficult because herbicides are less effective when the weeds are stressed.

The drought also is going to impact their yields, but if they pick up some rain here and the weather turns around, he thinks they will see decent corn and soybean yields.

Normally, July and August are moisture deficient months, Sexon said, and May and June are wetter months.

They are down about 11 inches of moisture in the last 12 months compared to normal. They average about 25 inches of rainfall a year, but they have gotten just over 14 inches.

“So we are not going into this hot, dry period with much left reserved in the tank,” he said. “So realistically, I think it could be a tough year.”

They’re early enough in the life cycle of the plants that if they get rain, they could come back, Sexton said, so they have to hope and pray for rain.

One rain, like the one they experienced Tuesday afternoon, isn’t enough, he said.

“We could use three or four inches of rainfall pretty readily,” Sexton said. “We wouldn’t want to get it all at once because it would run-off. But, that would get us recharged and then we will need more rain again in the weeks ahead.”

In an ideal situation, he said they could use about an inch of water a week.

“But in this part of the world, we don’t expect to get that this time of year,” Sexton said.

Normally, in July and August, the evaporative demand is greater than the rainfall. They usually are using more moisture than they are getting at this time of the year.

“That’s why having moisture reserved in the soil is important and that’s why we are kind of vulnerable right now,” he said.

Alvin Novak, Chairman of the board of directors for the Southeast Research Farm and a producer from Yankton said that while there are challenges to conducting research during a drought, there are also many other things they can learn.

He said, from research at his own farm, he has already found out one thing that he can’t believe is true, but he wouldn’t have learned it if it wasn’t for the drought.

“The results are not in, but I can tentatively see what it is going to look like,” Novak said.

Having rain go around your operation

“It seems like the rains are just missing us,” Novak said when talking about his operation in Yankton County.

He has a dry land farm consisting of oats, corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and cattle. He also has some fruit trees.

On Monday evening, surrounding communities got some rain, but it did not rain at Novak’s operation. However, after talking with KELOLAND, he did find out that he got a little rain at his farm on Tuesday afternoon.

“This is going to have to have several rains to soak up the ground,” Novak said. “The ground is so dry that you’ll get a substantial amount of rain, let’s say half an inch…and if you get that half an inch it doesn’t solve your problem because your subsoil is just bone dry.”

Novak said he can’t believe it, but they are surviving it.

He has no pastureland left for his cattle, he downsized his corn and soybeans before the drought and he is glad he did.

“It wasn’t much, but it might be enough that I can survive,” Novak said.

The corn has a grayish tinge to it, which means it is dying from the drought. The soybeans look good, but they aren’t growing, he said.

So far this year, Novak has seen about one third of his normal rainfall. Normally, they get about 20 inches of rain.

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