With winter rearing its ugly head across much of South Dakota, South Dakota State University Extension hosted several winter agronomy meetings throughout the state focusing on not only planting and weather but farm stress during troubling times.
After a year of farmers using prevented planting provisions of crop insurance, endless floods, a surprise double bomb cyclone event, and many more troubles, Mike Gillispie, a service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, had some hopeful news to share: 2020 should not be nearly as bad.
Gillispie was joined Jan. 21 by SDSU Extension staff to share the National Weather Service’s latest predictions for the coming year.
In 2019, South Dakota saw 20 inches more than the yearly average in precipitation in many parts of the state. In 2020, Gillispie said National Weather Service predictions see South Dakota right at normal, or below.
“That’s just great news. We aren’t looking at a repeat of what it looked like last year,” he said.
The reason for this shift is that the abnormal moisture should shift eastward toward the coast in 2020, as opposed to right on top of the Midwest like it has the last two years.
“2018 broke the record, and then we broke that again in 2019,” he said. “We just really hope we don’t see that for a third year in a row.”
The problem is, Gillispie said, is that any amount of moisture on top of our already waterlogged soil is immediately going to runoff. The data he collected suggested the Sioux Falls area and the rest of southeastern South Dakota is sitting at about 5-6 inches of soil moisture above normal.
“Even with normal precipitation, we are going to have more issues with flooding than we normally would have had,” he said.
While soil moisture levels remain high, Gillispie said that the last two years haven’t actually been cooler than average. High levels of precipitation made it feel as though summer was short. The reality is that South Dakota is trending toward normal to high temperatures for 2020 so it should help dry out the soil, should precipitation stay away as predicted.
With 2020 weather trending toward a more positive note, Paul Johnson, a weed science coordinator with SDSU Extension, shared his data on what the year will bring in the weed science field.
“For the most part, we are not better,” Johnson said.
Due to the overwhelming amount of moisture and prevent plant acres, Johnson said that weeds have exploded across the state. Along with that issue can come an overuse of pesticides and herbicides, which Johnson said would be a setback for resistant pests.
“We are about five to 10 years back from what we gained,” he said.
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Because of how bad weed pressure has been, Johnson said chemicals may be the only option at this point. His ultimate recommendation is to make sure a pre-herbicide is put on the field; Johnson said he saw definitive proof of its effectiveness last year.
“With as much that went to seed last year, we have to be on top of what we are doing and what went out into those fields,” he said.
Unfortunately for producers looking to be uplifted by Gillispie’s message, Johnson said that while data does suggest a better year in 2020, farmers should be wary that weeds have only gotten worse the last few years.
When it comes down to it in 2020, Johnson said he just hopes producers don’t decide to leave the weeds in the field and try again another year.
“It all comes down to whether or not you want to deal with weeds for 20 years or just deal with one bad year,” he said.
Weed pressure and weather woes are just some of the stressors farmers deal with. Understanding those stressors in everyday life is the difference between knowing simply if you’re stressed or depressed, said Andrea Bjornestad, an SDSU Extension mental health specialist.
It boils down to just understanding the symptoms of stress and what to do when they pop up, she said. Some of the important signs of stress include memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment. Some are easy to identify, but simple things like a persistent illness may also be an indicator that your body is struggling to cope.
“A lot of times when you have a cold you just can’t shake, it’s because of stress,” she said.
A lot of the time, Bjornestad said, stress on the farm boils down to one simple distinction — whether or not your operation is your calling or your business. Statistically, according to Bjornestad’s research, farmers who see their operations as “economic enterprises” are less stressed than those who see it as their “ultimate victory.”
“About 85% of producers are somewhere in between seeing your farm as a business and a calling,” she said.
Mental health discussions surrounding rural Americans and farmers specifically have picked up in recent years. Because of the focus, Bjornestad said they’ve been able to identify a steady uptick in depression rates amongst the producers of the country. In her research, anywhere between 7.4 and 24% of farmers have reported being depressed under their own volition.
The trouble is, since farmers consider their physical and mental health to be just barriers to their work productivity, a lot of serious issues go untreated or ignored every year. This is where Bjornestad said the big question of “how do you know you’re stressed or depressed?” comes into play.
“When you experience multiple symptoms for more than two weeks, that’s a good sign that you have depression,” she said.
If there is any silver lining, due to the tendency of the farming community to be tight-knit, Bjornestad said many organizations are offering free farm stress help lines to those who are struggling.
The Avera Farm Stress hotline is free, confidential and available 24/7 at 1-800-691-4336.