With temperatures nearing 100 degrees and water restriction advisories sent out by the cities of Pipestone and Edgerton and Lincoln Pipestone Rural Water publishing a request for water restriction on their website, Pipestone County is feeling the heat rise while watching moisture levels fall.
Mike Gillispie, a Senior Service Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls said that while the southeastern quarter of Pipestone County is currently designated as D1 drought status (moderate drought), the rest of the county is in a D2 (severe drought) status.
“The county has been split between a D1 and D2 since June 8,” he said.
According to Gillispie, there are three main types of droughts, and Pipestone County is experiencing all of them. First there is the Meteorological Drought, which is characterized by rainfall deficits and high temperatures. The second type is the Agricultural Drought, where we see soil moisture deficits, plant stress and reduced yields. Finally, there is the Hydrologic Drought, which includes reduced stream flow, lower lake and pond water elevations and reduced wetlands.
Even with the brief rainstorms over the past few weeks, Gillispie said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Center of Environmental Information says it will take around eight inches of rain in a month to bring Pipestone County out of the current drought.
Looking at longer timetables, Gillispie said it would take more rain in a year than is normal for Pipestone.
“It would take about 27.5 inches to end the drought in 12 months,” he said. “With normal precipitation for 12 months in Pipestone County being around 24.5 inches.”
The last time Pipestone County experienced a D2 or more severe drought was in late July of 2012 to mid-April of 2013. Some other recent years with lower-than-normal precipitation were 1988 and 1976, Gillispie said.
For area ag producers, the present conditions are creating ripple effects in their production efforts. Mike Zeinstra of Zeinstra Dairy here in Pipestone County, said that the current drought has affected hay and corn production, which has impacted the cost of feed.
“The drought has limited the amount of feed that is available for livestock producers,” Zeinstra said. “This is increasing the cost of feed and will require us to look at alternative feeds because of short supply and cost.”
Zeinstra said that although there are creeks on the family-run farm that have dried up, most of the pastures they have young stock out on have well water in tanks so watering them is not the problem.
“We do have young stock out on pasture which have very little grass because of the drought,” he said. “We are bringing feed to them.”
To help combat the increased need and prices for feed, Zeinstra said that his operation has started replacing some of the ground corn in their feed rations with ground rye grain, and substituting hay with straw and protein. In the future, Zeinstra predicts that the hay yields will be less this year.
“I think the hay yields will be 50 or 60 percent of normal,” he said. “The corn yields will also be less but I am unsure of how much.”
Devin Schulze, the owner of Schulze Dairy north of Holland, said that he has seen the impact of the drought conditions on his corn and in his pastures.
“We haven’t seen a decent rain since April,” Schulze said. “I planted the corn and it was bone dry and the stand wasn’t the greatest.”
The stand refers to how corn comes up out of the grown, and Schulze is finding that although his crop made the cutoff for “knee high by the 4th of July,” his crop is growing at an uneven height with the lack of adequate moisture.
“Normally you look across the field and the tassels are all right there at the same height,” he said. “The height of the corn for meal will affect my tonnage. I need so many tons to feed all of my cows. If the corn isn’t very tall the tonnage isn’t there.”
Schulze owns two dairies, one north of Holland and another dairy by Woodstock. While he said he will be alright at his dairy near Holland, he will likely have to buy feed to bring down to his Woodstock site.
“It will be the dry corn that is the big part,” he said. “You know I have some acres here that I could combine that I won’t be combining. I’ll have to chop everything for feed.”
Schulze said that if his first hay cutting for the year hadn’t been as tremendous as it was, he would have been short for feed with the rest of his cuttings.
“My first cutting was very, very good,” he said. “We got very lucky on that and so I’m sitting well for hay. It’s short, it’s not quite there yet but it works.”
In terms of water for his dairy cows, Schulze said everything on his dairy drinks out of a fountain so his worry at this time isn’t a lack of water resources for his livestock. However, he is seeing creek beds and ponds in his pastures dry up, some of them are rented out by his uncle who keeps beef cattle on the land.
“I and my uncle do have cattle out at pasture that would normally drink out of a creek or pond and they’re all dried up,” he said. “There’s no water sitting anywhere.”
Schulze said that he’s hearing a lot from other ag producers in the area that have cattle out to pasture that are having to haul tank water out to their livestock because of the dry conditions.
“I’ve had neighbors where their creeks are dried up and their tanking water out to them,” he said. “Where they’ve never had to do that. My uncle, he’s doing it. He’s tanking water out to them.”
Schulze said that even though he has more than one well and rural water, there is always a concern for his water supply, and that he has had a well dry up in the past.
Zeinstra and Schulze are not the only ag producers in Pipestone County feeling the heat. Eva Kramer, the County Executive Director for the Pipestone County Farm Service Agency said that approximately 40 Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land contracts have already applied for emergency hay and grazing due to the shortage of hay and grazing pasture. Typically, once an ag producer designates their land as CRP, they are not allowed to have their livestock graze there. Kramer said that due to the current conditions, Pipestone County became eligible for certain programs.
“Pipestone County became eligible for the Livestock Forage Program (LFP) on August 2, due to being in a D2 drought status for eight consecutive weeks,” Kramer said. “Eligible livestock producers have until January 30, 2022 to apply for livestock that would normally have been grazing during the normal grazing period and used for commercial use.”
Kramer said that eligibility will be based on physical location of the pasture, whether or not that county is an eligible LFP county and the carrying capacity of that county. For more information on additional programs and eligibility requirements, producers should contact the Farm Service Agency in Pipestone.
Looking ahead, Gillispie said that the latest seasonal drought outlook shows that we are expecting these conditions to continue through at least the end of October.
“The latest one-week, two-week, one-month and three-month outlooks are all showing increased chances of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation,” he said. “Hopefully we can continue to get a few timely rains of decent amounts to keep the drought conditions from worsening, but at this time, it doesn’t look like we will be getting enough rain through this fall to really start seeing a whole lot of improvement.”
Still, Gillispie said there is an upside coming in October.
“The good things about this part of the country and the types of droughts we are experiencing is that what we call the ‘water year’ starts over again in October,” he said. That is when water use is at a minimum, and soil moisture recharge occurs throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring, before water demand increases again heading into the summer growing season.”
If Pipestone County can get back to near normal precipitation for the Fall, Winter and Spring, we will see conditions improving quickly in the first half of next year, he said.