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A few ranchers in areas of South Dakota have had to disperse their herds due to drought (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

Late season drought recovery varies in SD

The drought made for a tough summer for many farmers and ranchers in South Dakota. And while some areas have received some late beneficial rains and are recovering, not everyone has been that fortunate.

Cattle producer Myron Williams of Wall, S.D., says this is the second year of drought in western South Dakota, and it hasn't broken yet.

"It started a year ago last March and it hasn't (broken)," he says. "I don't think we've had over a half inch since then at any one time. There are areas that have done better, but in our area ... we just haven't had it."

As a result, a few ranchers in William's area had to disperse their herds. However, he says they bought feed, utilized the government programs and insurance, and will also sell more cattle to get through the winter.

"You're going to cull pretty short. They'll be people down to numbers from what they were a year or two ago. I'm sure we won't see the expansion in this area that we've had in the past," he says.

Isabel cattle producer Mike Maher also culled some cows and sold calves early to preserve pasture and get the cows in good condition for winter.

"We maybe sold off some older cows and stuff that we normally would hang on to for a while, but just to save the grass we weaned the calves, some of the calves early," he says.

In fact, auctioneer Lynn Weishaar of Reva, says the fall calf run has been up to 30 days early where drought lingers, not just due to feed, but also water shortages.

"A lot of dams are empty, and you know a lot people rely on pipelines and some have to haul water. It's pretty rough on some of the folks with drought conditions," he says.

He also expects some additional culling before winter.

"There's sure going to be 20 to 35-percent of the cows probably go," Weishaar says.

Meanwhile, rains in the central, north central and northeast started the end of July into August and came just in time for the Schaunamans, who farm near Aberdeen.

"Late June, early July it didn't even look like we were going to get silage, and now we're going to have some row crops that are going to make corn and silage for the producers," Craig Schaunaman says. "So, things turned around."

In fact, yields ran just below their normal Actual Product History in the drought areas of their farm, so they feel fortunate.

"West of Highway 281 our beans are typically 45, so we're right at a 40-bushel average," Schaunaman says. "On our corn we can run from a 155- to 160-bushel average. So, some of the early corn was 120."

Those rains also slowed down the early cattle sales at livestock auction barns like Hub City Livestock Auction in Aberdeen.

"About the 15th or 20th of July, just as things got on the brink of disaster, thankfully it rained and it stopped all the pairs from moving for a little bit," co-owner Steve Hellwig says. "And then we got some more rain and everybody kind of made it through after that."

The Presho area also received some just-in-time moisture.

"We've been fortunate to get some rain here in July and August that have held our cattle in the pastures a little bit longer probably than they normally would have," Cody Volmer with Presho Livestock Auction says. "We had about 10 inches in about a two-week to three-week span, which, really, it was almost like a spring green up around here."

Many of those producers also received help from emergency release of CRP acres for haying and grazing and the Livestock Forage Program, which will get them through the winter.

"Any of those dollars that help defray the cost of having to buy feed it you had to go out and buy it or rent some additional grass, the Livestock Forage Program did what it was supposed to do," Schaunaman says.

"We'll have some feed to get us through winter, we had CRP acres get released and allocated out," Volmer says.

Even areas east of the river that were D3 on the Drought Monitor during the summer have seen the drought ease, so the outlook has improved.

"So, there's going to be a lot of silage," Joe Vetter of Herreid Livestock Auction says, "And then the hay crop, of course, a lot of people planted millet and sorghum, and now they're putting that up for hay too. So, we're in pretty good shape for feed."

However, even in areas where the drought lingers, ranchers say this isn't the first time they've faced adversity so they'll pull themselves up by the bootstraps and wait for rain.

"We're always closer every day to better times around the corner, its why you stay in this business I guess is hope," Williams says.

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