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Low snowfall totals raising drought concerns for farmers

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 5:14 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Last summer and fall didn’t give farmers much help in terms of moisture, and that trend hasn’t changed this winter. As of Monday afternoon, the Sioux Falls area had only received 13.7 inches of snow so far in this season, which is 15.5 inches less than normal.

Depending on where you live, as much as six to eight inches of snow could be on the way. And farmers like Jeff Thompson are looking for any moisture they can get.

Thompson farms corn and soybean near Lyons.

“That’s the coffee talk, how dry it is,” Thompson said. “It’s been a long, brown winter for all of us.”

South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal says the lack of moisture will be a challenge, and some timely rains will be needed once the ground thaws.

“The reality is that we used up just about every drop of subsoil moisture that we had in eastern South Dakota last year and we’re certainly going to need some beneficial rains,” VanderWal said.

For perspective, typically, ten inches of snow would equal one inch of rainwater. In the case of this system, that ratio is more like 30:1.

Because of the frozen ground, the snow doesn’t always end up in the soil profile. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

“It keeps things a little bit moist. You walk across the yard now and it’s surprising, the cracks you see in the ground because there is no snow covering it and it keeps drying out,” Thompson said.

Northeastern South Dakota is close to on track for average snowfall. However, in the southeast, it has been spotty.

“It just keeps going around us in this area, and across a big portion of the state it seems like,” Thompson said.

The most concerning area is in central South Dakota. In fact, prior to this latest system, El Paso, Texas had seen more snow this winter than Pierre.

“We just don’t like to see the extremes,” Thompson said. “The last few years it seems like it goes from one extreme to the next.”

However, farmers are staying cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t think we’ve ever lost a crop due to drought in February,” Thompson said. “We really haven’t started the growing season yet, but it does have our concern.”

In addition to the dry conditions, the local agriculture community continues to fight inflation and supply chain issues. VanderWal says fertilizer costs have doubled, and in some cases tripled since last year.

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