Wet conditions prompt emergency meeting

Wet conditions prompt emergency meeting by David Lias Mother Nature is proving to be very fickle in South Dakota these days.

While farmers and ranchers in some parts of the state continue to struggle with the effects of a prolonged drought, ag producers in portions of Clay County find they have the opposite problem.

It's too wet.

Most local farmers have been able to get their corn acreages planted.

But parts of many corn fields are now under water, drowning out the young plants.

Farmers also need to get their soybean crops in the ground soon. That might not happen, however, because fields are too wet.

An emergency planting decisions meeting will be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. June 7 in the basement of the Public Safety Center, 15 Washington Street, Vermillion.

Specialists from South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service will be available to give advice to farmers who have received too much rain and are dealing with fewer and fewer days in the growing season. This meeting is open to the public and is free of charge.

The region wasn't hit quite as hard with rain last weekend as, for example, Sioux Falls, which received approximately four inches of precipitation in the span of just a couple hours.

But the rain did pour down heavily at times in southeast South Dakota Saturday, adding more water to soil that was already saturated.

"Over the weekend, I gathered 2.2 inches (of rain) out of my rain gauge here at the office," said April Borders, Clay County Extension educator and agronomist. "I think it was officially reported that Vermillion received 1.75 inches. Down by the Burbank area, they got about 1.8 inches, so the rainfall has been kind of sporadic."

In some parts of Clay County, farmers are able to get into the fields because they didn't catch the latest round or two of moisture.

"There are those patches of the county that didn't get that last bit of moisture, but the rain did come down in the south and the eastern part of our county," Borders said.

Last weekend's rain appears to be part of a consistent pattern that has plagued area farmers all growing season.

"We've been getting storms rolling in just about every weekend since Mother's Day," she said.

Borders collected 1.9 inches in her rain gauge on Mother's Day weekend. A week later, approximately half of an inch of rain fell here, and on May 21 and May 22, Vermillion was hit with 1.75 inches.

"That really has filled up the ground in some of the low lying areas; they're getting into flooding issues," Borders said. "The ground now � I wouldn't say it's super-saturated, but it is to the point where it isn't sucking up the water like it was in the past."

Many of the county's corn fields were planted just before the pattern of rainy weather began here in late May.

"It's been really slow to get up, and has really stalled out," Borders said, "because we haven't had those growing days, that warmer temperature to get that corn growing. It does not like cool temperatures."

The cool weather has slowed the metabolism of the corn crop currently in the ground. "The plants can stay under that water and wet conditions a little bit longer than they they could if the weather was warmer and the plants started metabolizing at normal rates," she said.

Excessive water in soil means less oxygen for the plants. "The roots can't get any oxygen, because all of those oxygen pores are full of water," Borders said, "and they literally drown."

Farmers with rolling fields that drain well likely will fare better during these wet days than those with fields that contain low areas that collect water.

"Those people who have tiled their fields and have a drainage system underneath are probably at an advantage compared to people who have really poorly draining fields," she said.

The optimum window of opportunity for planting soybeans in the regions remains open for a month, beginning May 15.

Farmers will need time, Border said, to prepare hard, crusted soil for their bean crops. And, as long as the weather stays cool, those fields are going to take a long time to dry.

"Some of the things that we are trying to consider is planting even shorter season beans that what we already have," she said. "Replant issues into corn is a whole other ball game. It depends on what type of herbicide they've put down."

A host of other issues, including seedling diseases in wet corn, must be addressed by area farmers.

"We're in a really precarious situation," Borders said. "Once they get the soybeans in, they'll have to watch for seedling diseases as well. And soybeans can't handle being under water like corn can. That corn seed is so much harder than the soybean seed, and the vulnerability is different.

"It's just kind of a crazy situation," she said.

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