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News Release

Prepare for Less Forage in Western South Dakota this Summer

Contact:  Andrew Thomason, Public Affairs Specialist | Phone:  (605) 570-2625

SD map showing the drought conditions as of April 15, 2021SD map showing peak forgae production as of April 15, 2021





Drought maps showing the current and projected status of forage in SD.

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS), Huron, S.D., April 26, 2021 – While early April rains helped erase moisture deficits in some counties in eastern South Dakota (SD), moderate and extreme drought expanded across the rest of the state through April. The USDA NRCS is projecting normal forage production over most of eastern SD at peak production on July 1, but drought risks for reduced production over most of the western half of the state.

The latest United States Drought Monitor Map shows extreme drought in 11 counties in northwest and northcentral SD and moderate to severe drought stretching across much of the rest of the state. Row crop yields and drop and pastures suffer in moderate drought putting the cattle industry under stress. In extended severe droughts, hay is short, cattle sales are early, and grass fires are common. In extreme drought, the situation in northwest SD, ranchers may need to haul water and find other feed for cattle, as well as sell cattle. Row crop losses can be significant.

“We are still encouraging producers, in particular those in the west, to continue to take measures to mitigate the impacts of drought on their land,” says SD NRCS Acting State Conservationist Laura Broyles.

Avoid overgrazing early

While it’s tempting to graze pastures early in the spring when grasses are green and beginning to grow, overgrazing native pastures early in the season might have lasting negative effects, according to Emily Helms, NRCS State Rangeland Management Specialist for SD. “It can be a mistake to graze too hard and too early. It really depends on your objectives,” Helms says. “Ideally, if you graze early, it’s best to rotate through pastures quickly ensuring adequate leaf material is left behind. Leaving more than four inches of stubble height early on will allow plants to continue photosynthesizing and growing. Make sure to change the time you use each pasture so you aren’t early grazing the same pasture year after year.  Talk with an NRCS Conservationist if you have concerns about when to graze your pastures, they may have some great advice for the coming year.”

Remember the R’s: Rotate—Rest—Recover Close up Bill Slovek

Bill and Pennie Slovek’s ranch near Philip lies on the southern edge of the severe drought area of western SD. “We rotate through 67 pastures,” Bill says. “We move the cows every so often,” Pennie adds. “We watch the length of the grass; when it gets eaten down to a certain point we move them.”

Slovek ranch with cowws and cattle watering system

“I think the unique thing is, if we’re using three pastures at a time, the other 64 are getting rest,” Bill says. “People talk about how long they graze the land but I think what’s really important is how long you rest it. Most of the time, about 95 percent of the land is resting here. It really helps in dry years—you can withstand a drought a whole lot easier.”

Bounce back after drought year

The NRCS' Regional Soil Health Specialist Stan Boltz says it’s important to look not only at production in a drought year but also at production in years that follow. “Forage production can be lost in a drought year on a diverse rangeland in excellent condition as well as rangeland in poor condition,” Boltz says. “Research shows, though, the rangeland that goes into a drought in excellent condition will bounce back much faster and can produce as much as four times more forage in the year after the drought compared to rangeland in poor condition. That resilience comes from good management before the drought.”

The NRCS offers an online Drought Tool and other aids for drought planning and direct assistance to producers across SD.

NRCS South Dakota Drought Resources on the Web:

South Dakota Grasslands Coalition – Mentor Network: