Feb. 25 - Snow storms are causing traffic hazards in the eastern Dakotas this winter, but largely have skipped over western South Dakota.
During a recent CropStop tour, ranchers and farmers to the west expressed concern about the lack of moisture.
Holding out for rain, expecting cow sell-off
EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. -- Troy Vrooman of Eagle Butte, S.D., and his son, Jace, run about 250 cows and farm about 300 acres. "We're sitting in pretty tough shape for this coming year," Troy says. "I think we're going to see a lot of cows selling this spring if we don't get some moisture. The ground's pretty depleted right now. This last year, people kind of got by. We had a lot of marginal hay crops and some pretty decent corn, but we're pretty depleted now for ground moisture."
Farms in the area had quite a bit of hay carryover from previous years.
Vrooman says his pastures are eaten down and in tough shape, but he isn't making any firm cow-selling plans -- yet. "I think a lot of people are holding out, just seeing what happens with the snow and rain; holding on to your numbers as long as you can," Vrooman says.
Minnesota's oldest Charolais breeders
RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Larry Wakefield of Wakefield Farms in New Richland, Minn., showed his polled Charolais cattle at the Iowa Beef Expo in Des Moines after showing them at the recent Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, S.D.
The Iowa sale was more affected by drought than the Rapid City sale, says Wakefield, who says his family farm is the "oldest living Charolais breeder in Minnesota," having been at it since 1962. Wakefield is 71 and his two sons, Kyle and Dan, are the third generation on the farm. A granddaughter may be the fourth generation. "She's only a year and a half, but she sure likes cattle," Larry says.
The Wakefields have a 100-cow herd. The home farm is in flat, black-soiled corn and soybean country, but they also have some hillier, sandier soil where they run the cow herds. The Wakefields have shown cattle in South Dakota for 30 years. "It's true cattle country out here," Larry says. "The people who buy any of the bulls are really true cattlemen that know what they're doing."
Beef cattle sales were strong in Rapid City. The Angus sale brought $17,500 for the top bull. "Of course, we always come close to what theirs sell for," Larry says. The top-selling Charolais in Rapid City brought about $16,000.
In Des Moines, the Wakefields had the third-ranking 12-month-old heifer, sired by the national champion, which went for $4,500.
Larry thinks the drought has had an effect on sale values in Iowa. He says Angus, Charolais and Simmental sale values held up well in Rapid City, but some other breeds seemed to drop off.
7 inches in 19 months
QUINN, S.D. -- Randy Clark, 49, of Quinn, S.D., and his son, Hayden, 20, run Clark Ranch 11 miles northeast of Quinn, S.D. The Clarks had been running 400 cows, but slimmed down to 300 cows in late November 2012.
"In this deal, we're going to have to take it as the weather comes," Clark says. "If we don't have good moisture the next couple of months, we'll further reduce the herd. We're all in the same boat, basically. There's going to be a lot of guys that are going to start liquidating herds. We're going to have to have inches and inches of rain and feet of snow to get us out of this deal. It's early yet, but we've got to start getting something soon."
During a blizzard in mid-February, the Clarks were disappointed to end up with less than an inch of snow.
Last winter was the warmest winter on record in the Quinn area, and the driest. In the past 19 months, Clark Ranch has received only about 7 inches of moisture. "It's devastating," Clark says.
The Clarks don't do any farming. They put up hay for a living. "That's our cash crop," Clark says. He's had to buy a lot of hay.
In 2011, the ranch put up 8,000 bales, and none in 2012. He went about 90 miles away to put up a couple of quarters of Conservation Reserve Program hay to get the ranch through the winter.