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Published June 25, 2013, 09:49 AM

Officials: Eastern SD OK after drought

Recent rains have wiped out drought conditions in most of eastern South Dakota, but lighter rains have not yet fully replenished the soil moisture in many cattle-ranching counties west of the Missouri River and have made the recovery more tenuous, state officials said June 24.

By: Chet Broakaw, Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — Recent rains have wiped out drought conditions in most of eastern South Dakota, but lighter rains have not yet fully replenished the soil moisture in many cattle-ranching counties west of the Missouri River and have made the recovery more tenuous, state officials said June 24.

“East River, we largely have little of anything resembling drought,” State Climatologist Dennis Todey said at a meeting of the Governor’s Drought Task Force, noting that parts of eastern South Dakota have recently had to deal with flooding and hail that has damaged crops.

Drought conditions have eased in northwest South Dakota, Todey said. But the state’s southwest corner remains dry, neither improving nor worsening, he said.

“Southwest, they’re OK currently. We’re kind of holding our own,” Todey said.

Conditions have improved drastically from last year, when rain stopped falling across much of the state in July, hurting crop yields and forcing some farmers and ranchers to sell cattle because pastures and hay fields withered.

“I don’t expect things to shut off completely, like they did last year,” Todey said.

Phil Hofer, who farms near Bridgewater in southeastern South Dakota, said corn and soybean fields look good and the soil moisture has been recharged after last year’s drought cut his crop yield.

“It would be nice to get a crop, I know that, after last year,” Hofer said. “That would put a smile on a lot of faces.”

The task force, a group of state officials and others appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, meets periodically to get an update on conditions and consider ways to respond to dry conditions.

Members of the task force said they may not meet next month if conditions continue to improve.

Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor report indicated that only about 9 percent of the state was in severe or extreme drought, with no part of South Dakota in the highest category of exceptional drought. That’s a big change from March, when 86 percent of the state was in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Hofer said he doesn’t know what will happen later in the summer, but conditions are good now.

“We’ll just have to see what Mother Nature holds for us,” Hofer said.

In western South Dakota, Larry Gabriel said his hay crop is above average, a big change from last year when his family had to sell some cattle to get through the drought on the ranch near Cottonwood.

“The grass in the pastures, where the cattle are, it’s just about as good as it can get,” Gabriel said.

However, Gabriel said the hay near Philip, east of his ranch, is so poor it’s not worth cutting.

Wes Nolte said his family’s farm near Webster has received a lot of rain, but recent hail might have hurt the soybeans. If the weather warms up, the corn and soybeans should start shooting up, he said.

“It depends on what happens from here on,” Nolte said.

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