As of late, I have been keeping my eye on the U.S. Drought Monitor. The monitor is updated each Thursday, and as I write this over 50 percent of the state is in a drought with an additional 32 percent experiencing abnormally dry conditions.
Things are worst in the northcentral part of the state, particularly in Corson, Dewey, Campbell, Walworth, McPherson, Edmunds and Potter counties. Right in the center of this seven-county area the drought monitor now indicates extreme drought conditions. Looking at the U.S. map, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states currently experiencing severe drought.
Drought is not unusual here. In the first few years of statehood, South Dakota experienced a prolonged drought that lasted from 1887 until the mid-1890s. Gov. Arthur Mellette implored individuals to donate food, clothing and coal to farmers who were impacted. He gave $3,600 of his own money and later said some would not have survived the winter months without private donations.
The situation we face today is not as dire. Still, even a less severe drought affects everyday life in South Dakota. To some, it means just minor inconveniences — like no fireworks or campfires — but to others it can mean a major disruption of one’s livelihood. More than anyone, our farmers and ranchers feel the impact. The drought has stunted grass growth and hay production in much of the state, and ag producers are scrambling to keep livestock fed.
In response to the increasingly dry conditions, I have declared a statewide emergency to provide producers some relief. Under the emergency declaration, farmers and ranchers may cut and bale state highway ditches adjacent to their property. The order authorizes producers to transport feed without a Commercial Driver’s License, waives federal trucking regulations and permits haulers to move oversize hay loads up to 12 feet wide from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. I have also activated the State Drought Task Force, which monitors drought effects and coordinates the exchange of information among governmental, agricultural, fire and water-supply entities.
This week I also sent a letter to Secretary Perdue of the U.S. Department of Agriculture requesting the department make available as soon as possible Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying and grazing.
The emergency declaration, drought task force and the potential availability of CRP acres will provide some relief to those who are suffering from the drought, but government help is limited. Ultimately, it is the perseverance of South Dakotans that will pull us through. The drive to overcome has been instilled in us by our ancestors and carried us through past droughts.
This was something President Franklin Delano Roosevelt witnessed when he visited South Dakota during the Great Depression. After his South Dakota trip, he said:
“No cracked earth, no blistering sun, no burning wind, no grasshoppers are a permanent match for the indomitable American farmers and stockmen and their wives and children who have carried on through desperate days and inspire us with their self-reliance, their tenacity and their courage.”
I could not agree more.