ONIDA, S.D. (KELO)– Producers in Sully County are thankful for the rains and cooler temperatures, but they are not out of the drought yet.
Charles Todd, a farmer and rancher from Onida has a small grain and row crop operation, with small feeding and finishing operation of pure breed registered Angus cattle. The operation also has saddle horses and some pigs. Todd also does some custom farming.
“We have experienced some pretty good drought overall, definitely one of our worst years in recent history,” Todd said.
He said they noticed it most on the wheat and small grains. They didn’t plant any spring wheat this year because they knew the chances of a lost, Todd said. Oats were planted mostly for livestock feed.
For the conditions they have had, the winter wheat is looking pretty good, Todd said. The pasture ground has been decent because of their managing skills by knowing which plots to use first and keeping the stocking rates reasonable for the ground.
The dugouts for water are starting to dry up so they are starting to move cattle in order to keep the water sources good and to try to keep the cattle out of the mud, Todd said.
“The little bit of rain that we have had has improved some things,” Todd said. “The corn and the sunflowers especially look good, the beans look pretty good, but it hasn’t solved the world yet, it still shows quite a bit of stress.”
If the temperature stays where it is at right now and they keep seeing rain showers, Todd thinks they will end up doing pretty good.
The last rainfall they got last week was almost an inch and a half, he said. Their rainfall this year is drastically below average this year, along with less snowfall.
Todd has been surprised about how his pastures have been holding up during this drought season.
“You can definitely tell, the cool season grass tried to come good and then just couldn’t and once it was gone the warm season grass had trouble,” he said.
Todd has some good areas of cool season grass, but not as prevalent as the warm season grasses.
“It’s definitely not like it was in years past,” he said. “There’s no knee-high grass, there’s no green spots.”
Todd is worried about the feed supply for his cattle this year because he has had a very low hay crop.
“We didn’t really have much a first cutting of alfalfa, we did cut it, it’s probably may a quarter of the normal tonnage we get,” Todd said.
They have cut a majority of the open prairie grass to try to save the quality that they could, and it was maybe a third of the normal bales, he said. They are going to have to start finding other sources of feed at some point.
“This is still South Dakota, we are kind of used to a drought, I hate to say that but it’s kind of the way it works,” Todd said.
They will have to haul water to their pastures at some point, which is not something they do in a normal year, he said, but they’re holding out as long as they can before it gets too low and muddy. If the water quality is kept up, the cattle stay in better shape.
He is hoping that they can wait a month until they have to start hauling water.
To keep the sunflowers, corn and soybeans looking good, Todd said it would be best if the temperatures stay cooler like they are now, and we continue to see rain showers.
The corn is getting to a stage where it is demanding a lot of water as it goes from vegetative stage to the reproductive stage, he said.
Making timely decisions is also important in a drought, Todd said.
“I think at this point we are sitting pretty much where we need to be, we are just going to kind of hang it out and see where we can end up,” he said.
Todd will be harvesting his winter wheat crop, rather than baling it this year. Although the wheat doesn’t look great, he thinks it is above hay quality. The wheat does have some thin spots, which will be the next decision that Todd has to make, whether he pre-harvest sprays the wheat or work with the bad spots.
“You hate to see that, but it’s kind of part of this year,” he said.
They also opted to harvest the oats, rather than bale them.
Winter wheat harvest may begin as early as the end of this week, Todd said, which is a little early than normal.