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South Dakota in trouble as July moisture outlook bleak

South Dakota in trouble as July moisture outlook bleak

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“Drought is lingering in South Dakota and it looks like it will hang on with us for a while longer.”

The unfortunate news for South Dakota’s producers comes from South Dakota State University’s ongoing “Drought Hour” webinar hosted several times a month. Laura Edwards, the SDSU Extension state climatologist, shared the troubling news and some more tips during the presentation on June 28.

Edwards said that in 2021, places like Aberdeen have seen four days (as of early June) of over 100-degree temperatures. Before 2021, there were only nine days recorded over 100 degrees in the area since 2009.

“We’re starting to see the heat take its toll,” she said.

The typical precipitation in South Dakota averages out to about one inch per week in the month of June, with slightly lower totals in July. For all of June, half of the counties in South Dakota have only received half an inch of rain total.

Luckily for the area, she said, South Dakota has been able to “tread water” with scattered rain events in much of the eastern side of the state, but it is not a sustainable water source. The most drastic change the state has seen since April and May has been soil moisture, as it is now at critically low levels.

The northwestern part of South Dakota has actually improved due to May rainfalls.

“A lot of the change is due to May precipitation. It was below average but it was still close enough to meet a threshold,” she said.

The south central part of the state has entered into a D3 designation of drought, while the north central part of South Dakota has recorded its first official setback as the drought has dramatically limited wheat production.

“The Northern Plains are the heart of spring wheat country and it’s taken this very hard,” Edwards said.

Nationally, 89% of all spring wheat production is currently in some form of a drought, while 41% of corn remains in drought-stricken areas. Iowa and the Dakotas have been the heaviest hit by corn drought, as 99% of all corn production in South Dakota is in a drought with only Wisconsin — 100% — ahead in the U.S.

With very little overall optimism for moisture through July, Edwards said it will continue to be a challenging year on producers and perhaps the most challenging year since the early 2010s. At the end of 2021, even with snowfall, projections say all of South Dakota will head into 2022 in a drought.

Because of the drought, SDSU brought in Jaelyn Quintana, the Extension sheep field specialist, to share tips on nitrate levels in forages and pasture. Quintana said that due to increased drought levels, nitrate has become one of the largest problems in livestock.

SDSU has expanded its soil testing capabilities because of the drought, and Quintana said she highly encourages anyone to have their pasture and forages sampled.

“We really recommend if you bring samples in, it be at least 10 representative samples across your pasture,” she said.

The key when testing, she said, is to make sure different samples from various elevations and soil types are represented. In addition, make sure cuts are made at the ground level as it will be easier to tell if there is a nitrate problem in the field.

Quintana said that while the test SDSU offers has a chance of leading to a false positive — meaning the test says there is a nitrate problem where there isn’t — it is very unlikely that the test fails to find problem nitrate levels.

With nitrate levels being linked to anything from fertility to unwanted abortions, Quintana said getting forages and pastures tested is key as anything over 40% in nitrate should not be fed to animals on the operation.

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