Ranchers face tough decisions in drought

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA-TV) - Farmers and ranchers in western South Dakota have the opportunity to cut grass along ditches and roadways, but that will only be a temporary band-aid.

Forage conditions are looking slim for the summer, and even slimmer for the fall and winter. Cool Season Grasses that are found in this part of the state will only grow until the first week of July. After that time-frame, the grasses will start to decrease in nutrition value.

District Conservationist, Matthew Odden, says the conditions producers face now are due to never coming out of a drought.

"We got a little bit of precipitation this winter," said Odden, "and then we went a while without any. Hot temperatures and windy days are not good right now."

Farmers and ranchers are now facing tough decisions. Selling livestock, grazing cropland and buying feed from outside the state are all options.

"Looking at these hay fields, it's pretty bleak," said Odden. "If it were up to me, I would graze them rather than cutting them."

Senators Rounds and Thune recently wrote to Secretary of Ag, Sonny Purdue, asking him to open Conservation Reserve Programs for grazing. Conservationists are concerned about the wildlife who use those grounds for habitat if the land is opened up too soon.

South Dakota extension specialists urge farmers and ranchers to have a drought plan, and be ready for a dry summer.