Waiting for another Dakota Drought - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Waiting for another Dakota Drought

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 In north central South Dakota, they're wondering if this year will be their year for another drought.
 The Mobridge area endured a painful, major drought in 2002 and again four years later in 2006. 
 Four years later, in 2010, drought came again but was not as bad.
 And now...four years later....producers are wondering if this cycle will hit them again.
 If you've been a cattle producer in north central South Dakota for any period of time, you know the spectspecterrought lingers over every season.
 Three times in the last 12 years, this region has seen the rain dry up, fields burn up and cattle barn sales go up....because a drought cuts hard and cuts deep.
 "This is a season where snow should have fallen but didn't..where rain could turn things around, but won't." 12 years ago, I went to Mobridge, where stock dams had dried up, where the earth was cracking open and where crops died in their fields. It's when I first met cattle producer Pat Thorstenson, who wondered if his operation would survive. "We're just trying to get by trying to get by another year. Hopefully it gets better next year."
 A few weeks ago, I went to Mobridge...and again met up with Pat Thorstenson. "Last Spring I remember we weren't sure...it was so dry up here...we weren't sure we were going to be able to turn cattle out over on tribal ground."
 Pat is a third generation cattle producer who has survived two other bouts of drought since I last saw him.
 And he's wondering if another drought is coming this year. "It is feast or famine. Last fall we had so much moisture and now this winter there hasn't been all that much snowfall."
 Last Spring, it was again bone dry.
 One year ago, he was branding calves in the dust. 
 But then the rain came. he's hoping this region's luck will hold for two years in a row. "It's devastating when the weather is bad. and its tough and we've had some bad times."
 12 years ago, cattle were running through the Mobridge Livestock Auction Barn at a good clip...producers were selling off entire herds, taking a loss but hoping the money they did get would be enough for the operation to survive. In some cases, it wasn't.
 "There have been some farmers and ranchers up here that have gotten out of the cattle business altogether. That was their call at that time. And I do know a lot of them that appreciate it. They sleep better at night." Spencer Gosch is also a 3rd generation Mobridge cattle producer and tells me living in a drought prone area has taught producers to operate at a different level of readiness...to protect their future of their farms. "Most ranchers try to keep a 2-3 year feed storage on hand in case we have an off year. If you have an off year, you can bounce back."
 Bouncing back also includes keeping cattle a little longer than normal....not selling as many as often...just to have some extra reserve on hand.
 It also means preserving the prairie as much as possible for grazing...and resisting the temptation to farm it....because if a drought comes, the extra grass will come in handy. "Conservation is kind of a big deal...as in we've still got good, hearty grasslands around here."
 But for all the preparedness, it is no secret how volatile this area has been as of late. with plenty of moisture one year and virtually none the next. How does this not sap the spirit of the people in this area? I asked Spencer Gosch and he essentially told me, he does his best to ignore the idea of drought. "It's one of those things where you'll never sleep at night if you think about it all of the time. And if you let it get to you. But my father is very good at saying its never so bad it couldn't get a lot worse...and its never so good it couldn't get better."
 "When it comes down to it, if we're short of hay...and our cattle need hay...we have to go out and buy it and obviously if there is a shortage of hay here it's going to be a long distance to go get it." Pat Thorstenson says when drought comes again, it will be expensive....again. 
 He typically has to drive 100 miles to buy hay. During a drought, hay supplies go down which means the price goes up.
 Gas prices are higher than they were four years ago, so he will lose money on that.
 And he will likely be forced to sell some cattle...which will diminish his herd. 
 He can not depend on the weather. 
 All he can do is his best....is pray. "You have to be resilient in this business. just hope that Mother Nature and the Good Lord comes around and sends us some moisture."
 The latest drought monitor shows abnormally dry conditions to the southeast of Mobridge.
 A new monitor is set to come out tomorrow; we'll be watching it and so will the cattle producers of north central South Dakota.
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