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Published August 12, 2013, 11:36 AM

A stark difference

The National Agricultural Statistics Service says crops are behind in the region. Nowhere is the difference between 2013 and 2012 more stark than in southern South Dakota.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The National Agricultural Statistics Service says crops are behind in the region. Nowhere is the difference between 2013 and 2012 more stark than in southern South Dakota.

NASS says below-normal temperatures are slowing crop development, but had improved range and pasture conditions. Topsoil moisture in the state is rated 72 percent adequate to surplus, while subsoil moisture was rated 67 percent adequate to surplus.

South Dakota winter wheat was 53 percent harvested as of the Aug. 5 report, behind last year’s drought-stressed 100 percent harvest for that date and an 82 percent five-year average. Spring wheat is 34 percent ripe, compared with the 73 percent average.

Statewide, corn silking was at 87 percent complete, behind last year’s 95 percent, but ahead of a 70 percent average.

Corn was rated 74 percent good to excellent. Soybeans were 37 percent setting pods, behind last year’s 68 percent and behind the average of 45 percent for the date.

Agweek made a swing through southeast South Dakota, where the 2012 drought decimated the crops.

Easier to hang on

WAGNER, S.D. — Ken Swatek of Wagner, S.D., says the area has received timely, unusual late-July and early-August rains. He says “it didn’t take much to beat 2012” when crops were zeroed out. Swatek farms small grains and feeds cattle.

“It looks like the prices on feed have come down a little bit from last year, so hopefully it’s a bit more optimistic than last year,” he says.

Farmers in the region had gotten respectable grass production for the first and second cuttings. He pegged the second-cutting of alfalfa at one round bale per acre and says the area needs rain for a third cutting.

The market continued strong on kill cows through mid-August. “With a little bit better feed supply, there aren’t as many cattle coming to town this time of year as there was last year when they were selling them out because of the drought, statewide.”

Swatek doesn’t think the area is out of the drought yet. “Every time we get a rain, it still soaks down,” he says. “But we’re going to have a nice crop down here if we can avoid a hail storm or an early frost.”

This year, feedstuffs have been 65 to 70 percent of 2012 costs, so it’s easier to hang on to the cattle. Early in the season, a lot of the feedlot hay had come from North Dakota and Canada.

No slow-down

YANKTON, S.D. — Larry Mettler, sales manager at Koletzky Implement in Yankton, S.D., didn’t sell many hay tools in the drought of 2012, but this year, it’s been a big turnaround, he says. The dealership covers a wide area, into Nebraska.

Much of the 2012 crop was “zeroed out,” he says, but that also meant no harvest expense. “They did carry insurance, so as far as our end of the business goes, it’s been great,” Mettler says.

Extended tax benefits that allowed farmers to depreciate equipment have helped keep sales perking along. “Since November 2012, I would say business here has been exceptional,” Mettler says.

While the Yankton area looked lush in late July, benefitting from timely rains, Mettler says it wouldn’t take long to slip back into dry conditions. The area got a total of 2.5 inches of rain in Aug. 3 and Aug. 5 storms.

Farmers in the area are financially strong, Mettler says. Interest rates on financed deals depend on whether the purchaser is using other discounts and other terms. Interest rates on equipment typically are 3.9 percent for three-year loans, 4.35 percent for four-year loans, and 4.8 percent for five-year loans. Rates have fluctuated moderately this summer.

Koletzky Implement was started in 1962 and originally operated out of the old Smithsonian Hotel, a structure built in the 1880s in Yankton. The company started with Allis Chalmers and Oliver equipment and added New Holland in 1975. Koletzky moved to its current location along U.S Highway 50 in 1984 and built a new service facility in 2005. Mettler, a Menno, S.D., native, has been in the mechanics and equipment field since 1967 and in sales at Koletzky since 1996.

Feeders too high?

PONCA, Neb. — Ron Servine, a cattle buyer from Ponca, Neb., says feeder cattle costs are high this summer and the market-ready cattle market is “not going anywhere.” Ponca is in northeast Nebraska in Dixon County, near the Missouri River.

Cow-calf people probably need the price they’re getting for their feeder cattle, but the feedlot operators “absolutely haven’t been making any money,” Servine says. He says the market is short on numbers and “if you want them, you have to pay for ‘em” with prices $10 to $15 per hundredweight higher than in early July.

“A 600-pound steer, pushing up to $1.70 (per pound), and an 8-weight (800-pound) steer pushing $1.50 (per pound)?” he says. “They don’t pencil out very good. Everybody is banking on that this new (feed) crop will be cheaper, but we’ve got to see it first.”

No hail, thank you

CENTERVILLE, S.D. — Jerry Andal produces corn, soybeans and some grass hay and sells seed for several brands — mostly under the Syngenta and Latham labels.

People in the Centerville area famously got very little crop in 2012 — the worst since 1976 and definitely the worst drought since he quit his mechanical engineering career and came home to farm in 1981. He says despite crop insurance, his operation was “short about $100,000 on income” last year. He’d bought insurance at the 70 percent level in 2012 and moved up to an 80 percent selection level in 2013, anticipating drought.

Nonirrigated corn yields in the area average about 130 bushels an acre, and often 150 bushels with well-timed rains. Most of the area is silt-loam soil, but some of Andal’s place is a sandy loam.

After 2 inches of rain in the first week of August, the farm was looking good “as long as we don’t get a hail storm.” Anticipating drought, Andal perceives that some people cut back on planting populations in 2013 — about 10 to 15 percent, on corn. He says most people plant 26,000 to 30,000 plants per acre normally, and this year went to 22,000 to 25,000 plants per acre. Some cut back on fertilizer.

A lot of tile drainage has been added, with the wet weather in recent years, Andal says. “There’s people retiling, but they had ground that (wasn’t tiled) but not classified as wetland; they’ve been tiling that,” he says.

Natural Resources Conservation Service offices are about a year behind in approving applications, he says. Some farmers have gone ahead and tiled without permits. Others have asked to be rejected at a local NRCS county office so they can appeal directly to the state office for a permit.

“They have a better chance of getting it through at the state office,” Andal says. “The local county officials don’t like it, but that’s what’s been happening.”

Bumper hay crop

BERESFORD, S.D. — Ryan Nelson farms with his cousin, Mike Nelson, and raises corn and soybeans eight miles south and two miles east of Beresford.

He was harvesting a first-cutting of brome hay and was getting a couple tons per acre or more when Agweek stopped to chat.

“It’s really good, considering last year,” Nelson says. The hay market was holding its own, but declined into August because there was more supply.

“There’s a lot of cutting going on.”

The season is going well for other crops, too, after getting key rains for corn pollination and for soybeans during flowering.

“The beans are flowering well, and it’s starting to set pods. No better time to have rain than now,” he says, noting people have been receiving 1- and 2-inch rains.

The Nelsons don’t have wheat or oats, but people whose fields he bales got 60- to 75-bushel winter wheat and oats yielded 120 to 135 bushels per acre.

“We baled some oat straw for a guy who thought his crop was 130,” Nelson says.