HITCHCOCK, S.D. — Farmers in east-central South Dakota are still dealing with water from 2019.

Ryan Peterson, 29, farms with his brother, Jason, 38, and their father, Danny, 63. The Petersons together raise about 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat.

Statewide, the National Agricultural Statistics Service in South Dakota reported that topsoil moisture was 21% surplus and 77% adequate. Corn was 67% planted, ahead of the five-year average of 59% completed, and soybeans were 40% planted, ahead of the 27% average for the past five years.

Conditions near Hitchcock, north of Huron, S.D., were a bit behind. The Peterson farm was wet in the fall, but had little snow in the winter. They are able to farm more acres, but are dodging wet spots.

Ryan Peterson of Hitchcock, S.D., was a bit behind schedule at on his soybean and corn planting in late May, after cold and rain delays earlier in the month. Photo taken May 14, 2020, near Hitchcock, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Ryan Peterson of Hitchcock, S.D., was a bit behind schedule at on his soybean and corn planting in late May, after cold and rain delays earlier in the month. Photo taken May 14, 2020, near Hitchcock, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

On May 14, Ryan was navigating with a John Deere 9510RT, an agricultural crawler tractor with 510 horsepower, pulling a DB90 planter with 36 rows, with 30-inch spacing with pneumatic downforce, with a 2-by-2 liquid fertilizer system.

The Petersons were about 35% planted on that day and had increased to about 45% planted as of May 19, he said, later.

That cold snap the first week of May put them behind. “We didn’t like the temperatures for getting a good germ(ination). We decided to let it pass but it ate up a lot of calendar days,” he says. The family had about 60% of their soybeans planted and about 25% with their corn.

The Petersons don’t think lateness would adversely affect yield. They planted some corn late in 2019 but the yields were as good. “We feel comfortable pushing the late-planting date,” Ryan said.

This year, they planted soybeans first. Ryan said he had been talking with specialists at farm shows and field days. “A lot of people down south are trying that, and we thought we’d try that too, based just on the germination need for soybeans and their better ability to tolerate the stress early-on.”

The 2019 crop suffered from a bad wind storm during corn tasseling time, hurting some yield, but otherwise yields were good. Profitability is a concern, after a string of years with “minor profits and tight margins.”

Ryan Peterson, 29, of Hitchock, S.D., was about 35% planted on May 14, and had increased to 
about 45% by May 19, after some rain. Photo taken May 14, 2020, at Hitchcock, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Ryan Peterson, 29, of Hitchock, S.D., was about 35% planted on May 14, and had increased to about 45% by May 19, after some rain. Photo taken May 14, 2020, at Hitchcock, S.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Peterson didn’t do much pre-planting marketing this year, because of not knowing how many acres he’d be able to plant. They market in the towns of Huron, Wolsey, Redfield and Aberdeen, and sometimes Volga, S.D.

The basis has really worsened for corn this year because of the destruction of market demand for ethanol. The corn was higher in moisture, so they moved much of last year’s corn on a basis contract. “We thought the futures would improve, and then COVID hit,” he said. “Now, we still have those basis contracts out there. It probably means going from a profit to break-even.”

Some fields have some flooding from 2019, so there will be some prevented-planting insurance. The Petersons did “flex” some fields to soybeans this year due to current pricing.

“Now, I’m kind of concerned about marketing how many acres I’ll be able to plant,” he says.

Peterson went to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at Rapid City, S.D., and used his degree in chemical engineering to work in the oilfields of Oklahoma City and Malaysia for a few years before he was laid off and came back to farm with the family in 2017.

The pandemic hasn’t hasn’t upset the rhythm of farm life, significantly, so far. “Fewer trips to the grocery store, so more each time,” Ryan said. “When I do a parts run, we have the distancing.”

Ryan’s wife, Tauree, is a physical therapist at Huron (S.D.) Regional Medical Center. Jason’s wife, Sara, works in the home as a mother of twins. Danny’s wife, Danette, assists with farming logistics at times.