South Dakota winter wheat harvest bleak - KOTA Territory News

South Dakota winter wheat harvest bleak

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In the shadow of Bear Butte, Dave Wilson farms winter wheat, something he's been doing for 40 years.

"This is the driest year I've ever seen, and I've farmed all my life," Wilson said. 

To show just how dry, Wilson invited KOTA Territory News and agronomist John Rickertson to take part in a little experiment to test the soil moisture. First, he drilled a one-foot hole in land that was cropped the last three years.

"We're looking at ground that is really dry. There's almost no moisture in the soil," Rickertson said.

Next Wilson drilled a deeper hole, two to three feet in the soil.  Still, no moisture. Then, Wilson dug a hole in a neighboring fallow field or a field that has rested and been fertilized for a season.

"Now there's moisture because you can actually get this soil to hold together. You know, form a ball," Rickertson said.

It's optimistic news for Wilson - contingent on moisture.

"If we could even get .03 of moisture, it would adequately sprout this grain at one time. We've been unable to do that this fall," said Wilson. 

Wilson planned for a dry forecast, seeding late in hopes of moisture.  But, like many farmers with this crucial cash crop, planning only goes so far.

"Five percent might be an optimistic number for the amount emerged. On the plus side, as we were digging around, we are finding some plants that are very close to breaking through the surface," Rickertson said. 

The downside: the sprouts are small, making it a lot harder for them to make through the winter.

"If stay like this and don't get rainfall for the next three months or snow, which would be even better, those little sprouts will very likely die," Rickertson added.

Perhaps the only bright spot is the price of grain.

"It kinda takes away some of the pain," Wilson laughed. 

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