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Buffalo County: 'Worst drought since 1976'

ANN VALLEY, S.D. -- Ranchers in Buffalo County are wondering how long they can hold on without rain. Richard Sinkie has lived on the his family's land in Buffalo County near Gann Valley for pretty much all his life. This year's dry weather condit...

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ANN VALLEY, S.D. - Ranchers in Buffalo County are wondering how long they can hold on without rain.

Richard Sinkie has lived on the his family's land in Buffalo County near Gann Valley for pretty much all his life.

This year's dry weather conditions are the worst he has seen since 1976 in the central-South Dakota County, located on the east side of the Missouri River, north of Chamberlain. Comparatively, according to Sinkie, the area saw a hard freeze in May 1976 that froze the crops, and the area did not see a good rain the rest of the summer. That summer, the government came through with some assistance and Sinkie was able to make two trips a week to North Dakota for hay.

"The program paid us so much per ton per mile to haul that hay. It's the only way we could have afforded to do it, or we would have had to sell all our cattle," Sinkie said.

With little rainfall this year the Sinkie family is reminded of 1976, and they've already started looking for hay to get their cattle through the winter months and, possibly, wondering if government assistance will come soon.

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"If the government does come through with some type of assistance, that will be a big help," Sinkie said.

With severe drought conditions being reported in six northern South Dakota counties, aid is expected to come to ranchers through the Livestock Forage Program, according to the Associated Press on Friday.

"They need to do a better job in determining the severe drought area," Sinkie said. "Like I say, I bet we are drier than some of the northern counties they talk about."

At the Sinkie farm, a total of 2.7 inches of rainfall has been recorded on his property since the snow melted.

"The past couple years have been dry, but not nearly like this," Sinkie said.

This time of year, the family is usually busy haying their 250 acres of alfalfa, grass mix and prairie hay. This year Sinkie estimated that 50 acres of their hay land will be worth cutting.

Last week, he spent time cutting hay in a 20 acre field. It was the first crop and should have yielded 60 bales. It yielded five.

"The field down here where I got five bales is hardly worth it," Sinkie said. "But I had to get the first crop off, so if it does rain the second will come."

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He also spent time cutting hay on a new alfalfa field he seeded last year. He should have hauled home 100 bales, he brought home 19.

"We feel very fortunate we got the 19 (bales)," Sinkie said.

Even though seed technology has improved to help with drought resistance with very dry conditions "it will help some but not much." According to Sinkie, crop insurance will be more beneficial.

The family farms enough feed for their cattle, but with little moisture the crops are inches tall instead of the knee-high expectation, according to Sinkie.

"We are hoping for knee high by the time we have to make silage," Sinkie's wife, Karen, said.

With little crops for feed and little hay, they are looking to keep as many cows as they can through the rest of the summer and the winter months.

"Our plan for the winter is to try to acquire enough feed for the cattle," Sinkie said.

According to Sinkie, if no more cattle are sold this summer they will need 600 bales to make it through the winter. The family already sold several cows and some of their calves.

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In anticipation for winter, they have already started buying hay and sending out inquiries for hay to purchase.

"We will buy as much as we can at a price we can afford," Sinkie said after explaining that prices in hay have increased due to the shortage.

Dust Storms

Remnants of the 1930's dust storms can still be found on the Sinkie property.

About a month ago, Karen Sinkie remembers working outside and thought the clouds that were coming meant rain. Instead, it was a dust storm.

According to Sinkie, the storm only lasted 15 minutes with visibility about a half-mile.

"We had dust storms in '76 nothing that bad since then that I can recall," Sinkie said.

With dry conditions creating dust storms and little crops left to grow the rest of this season is looking grim.

"The government needs to come through and help these ranchers a little bit, too, like they did in '76. That saved us." Sinke said.

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