After first-day weather hiccup, Dakotafest kicks off

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Severe weather prompted the first-ever cancellation of Dakotafest's launch day in Mitchell, S.D.,this week, pushing opening day of the farm show to Aug. 19 for its 30,000 attendees.

Dakotafest near Mitchell, S.D., got off to a rough start, with the cancellation of its first day -- Aug. 18 -- because of lightning strike risks. The show kicked off on Aug. 19 under blue skies. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

MITCHELL, S.D. - Severe weather prompted the first-ever cancellation of Dakotafest’s launch day in Mitchell, S.D.,this week, pushing opening day of the farm show to Aug. 19 for its 30,000 attendees.

The 20th annual show features about 550 exhibitors and is held on the Schlaffman farm, along Interstate 90, on the south side of Mitchell.

With crop prices falling from lofty levels in 2012 and 2013, most farmers were focused on what appears to be a good harvest overall in the region, with mixed reports on whether the recent rains are a blessing or a bane heading into the fall.

One of the features of Dakotafest is a collection of education sessions coordinated by South Dakota State University personnel. This year, the sessions included topics such as climate, nozzle technology and precision agriculture.

Weather interest Dennis Todey, South Dakota State Climatologist and SDSU Extension climatologist, said an early dry season helped establish deeper roots, which helped crops thrive through later drier periods in some areas. An early freeze shouldn't be "much of a problem" for most crops.


Todey noted that the storm system that cancelled the show Aug. 18 with heavy rains and winds was unseasonable and had the hallmarks of fall systems, which usually start around Sept. 1 in this region.

"Some places this moisture is welcome because we have had dry spots in the state, " he says

But the downside is that areas around Brookings or Clear Lake have seen on of the top 10 wettest August months, with nearly two weeks remaining.

"That's going to be a problem going into the fall from a harvesting standpoint," Todey said.

If it stays cooler and wetter into September, farmers will struggle with dry-down issues at harvest. Farmers like to leave crops in the field to dry naturally when crop prices are relatively low.

"Each bushel you have to dry cuts into their profits," Todey said.

"The probabilities are well above 90 percent that El Nino is going to stay with us" into February or March, Todey said, referring to effects on wind patterns signaled by water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the Equator. "It'll likely be a very strong El Nino," and "could be one of the strongest on record."

Some climatologists have called it a "Godzilla" phenomenon.


The biggest impact for this region is a warmer winter than normal. Moisture signals are uncertain for this area, but it is likely to be drier in Montana and Wyoming, the headwaters of the Missouri River. Todey said the El Nino phenomenon also indicates a wetter fall.

Milder winter Among this year's show-goers was Tonner Bowman of Brandon, S.D., who came to the show with a group of friends. His corn has gotten timely rains this year and he's hoping for a good crop, despite hail that had flattened soybeans about two miles to the west of his farm.

"We've been fortunate," he said.

Bowman will be a freshman this year at SDSU in Brookings, where he hopes to major in agronomy. He hopes for a primary career as a professional agronomist and then farm part-time.

Will Walter, a farm-ranch business management instructor at Mitchell Technical Institute, tries to make it the show every year. He said there are a lot of "big things" at Dakotafest that farmers may not have an appetite for, but also a lot of "little things, that farmers can take home and put to use."

Proud promoter Al Arndt, of Sioux Falls, S.D., district manager for Brock Grain Systems, based in Milford, Ind., expected this year's Dakotafest to finish with strong attendance, despite missing the first day crowd.

Arndt  was instrumental in starting Farmfest at Vernon Center, Minn.,  which moved to Redwood Falls, Minn., and then formed the Dakotafest show as a branch.

"We're all very proud that these farm shows are all one big happy family," Arndt said.


Samantha Castro, of Madison, Wis., is marketing manager with IDEAg Group, which for the past two years has been a brand of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. The group manages five shows a year, including Dakotafest and Farmfest.

Castro said the first day Dakotafest cancellation was regrettable but required, with the chance of lightning. Conditions would have likely discouraged fair-goers anyway, with nearly  1.7 inches falling during the day, and winds gusting above 40 mph.

Typically, the show starts with about 10,000 attendees, adds another 15,000 on Wednesday and then tapers to about 5,000 in the third day.

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“In our industry there aren’t a lot of young people in it. I like the fact that there are a lot of young people in agriculture here,” he said of the Mitchell area.