To call this an incredibly challenging year for farming is probably an understatement. Autumn precipitation left soil saturated throughout the winter, and spring rains never seemed to end throughout most of South Dakota.
Frustrated farmers scrambled to plant their crops. Across the nation, a record 19.3 million acres of farmland went unplanted this year, according to the Farm Service Agency. No state was hit harder than South Dakota, which has 3.86 million unplanted acres, more than any other state.
You could find thousands of examples to show how South Dakota’s farmers dealt with the many challenges, but you don’t have to go any farther than the Bryce and Maddy Rabenhorst farm northwest of Salem.
Maddy is the South Dakota and North Dakota field manager with the Soil Health Partnership, a farmer-led initiative that focuses on improving soil health, which in turn benefits farmer profitability, a stable food supply and the environment.
The Rabenhorsts were able to plant only 240 acres (100 corn, 140 soybeans) of their 1,300 acres. They couldn’t even get into the field until the first week of June. They planted soybeans in mid- to late June. Once they decided it was getting awfully late to plant, they decided to pull the plug on corn and soybeans and apply for prevented plant coverage.
Unable to plant most of their fields, the Rabenhorsts decided this would be a good opportunity to focus on soil health and take steps to improve their soil. They wanted to plant cover crops, such as oats and tillage radishes. They hoped by getting radishes established, they would at least have something worthwhile growing in their fields. But as August neared an end, they still hadn’t been able to plant cover crops. The rains just wouldn’t stop.
They were hopeful they could finally begin planting cover crops the last week of August but received another 1.2 inches of rain. If they can’t get them planted by mid- to late-September, they’ll consider shifting some acres to rye just to get something growing in their fields. There’s a big window for rye, which they said can be planted as late as Thanksgiving. As for the corn and soybeans they did manage to plant, those are behind schedule.
Most of the state’s farmers are in the same boat. A late frost is what we’re all hoping for. The later the better.
After this year’s weather problems, the Rabenhorsts know they’ll have to work the ground and start from scratch to get off to the right start next year, with hopes they’ll be able to no-till soybeans. Their long-term goal is to no-till soybeans and strip-till corn, eventually transitioning to all no-till acres.
Despite all of the challenges, they’re trying to keep a positive outlook. According to Maddy, “The year hasn’t been ideal, but at the same time it’s opening up opportunities moving forward. We’re trying to see the positives in it.”