South Dakota Drought Poses Emergency for Ranchers

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (CN) — South Dakota’s Department of Transportation will stop mowing grass along highways to allow more hay for ranchers in desperate need of food for cattle in the midst of a summer drought, according to a governor’s declaration Friday morning.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has declared the drought a “state of emergency.”

Even though the summer has barely begun, already the drought has left ranchers in the state’s remote north and western areas desperate and with no other option than to sell from their herds.

“Yesterday, we sold 2,200 head of cattle,” said Casey Perman, who oversees the livestock auction in Mobridge, in north-central South Dakota. “Usually, on a Thursday in June we’re lucky to get 500.”

Storms brought the state a scant inch of rain this week, but other than that, the summer has been dry and hot. Grass is brown and shriveled. Ranchers—familiar with slim profit margins—struggle to feed their cattle.

“Growing up there have been some dry times,” said Perman, who’s worked in the cattle industry since 2002, “but talking to some old people, they don’t remember not getting a first [hay] cutting.”

Gov. Daugaard’s declaration of a state of emergency also allows for longer hours by truckers hauling hay or cattle. With temperatures in the 80s and 90s, which is unseasonable warm for early summer in the state, parts of South Dakota are among the only places in the country currently experiencing “severe drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This comes just two months after unusually late snowstorms stalled the opening of grain markets in parts of the Dakotas.

Scott VanDerwaal, South Dakota Farm Bureau President who was returning from an event in Wall, South Dakota when he spoke with Courthouse News, sounded resigned.  “Everybody gets their turn. People in Wall said it’s like the mid or late ’80s when we had a dryer year or two in there.”

Wall, made famous by its massive tourist shopping center Wall Drug, is in the southwestern corner of the state on the edge of Badlands National Park.

“The only relief some of these guys have is insurance, and that doesn’t kick in unless there’s a big dent,” VanDerwaal added.

Back in Mobridge, along the Missouri River, Perman said they’re watching the forecasts.

“[The drought] is the first thing on everyone’s mind. I walked into the Dairy Queen the other night, and a couple guys are sitting in there, and they’ve got nothing left,” he said.

Vanderwaal said that when the southern plains experienced wild fires this winter, some South Dakota ranchers sent hay down the interstate as emergency relief.

“They want that hay back now,” he said.


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