Weekly Column: Drought Affecting South Dakota Farm and Ranch Operations

Agriculture in South Dakota accounts for more than half of our economic output each year, and is our state’s number one industry. We are one of the nation’s leading producers of sunflowers, corn, wheat and soybeans, and our farmers and ranchers work tirelessly to help feed and fuel a growing global population.  Unfortunately, our ag producers have been hit hard this summer with abnormally dry conditions. Farmers across the state are struggling to keep their crops healthy. 

According to the National Weather Service, parts of South Dakota are experiencing extreme drought conditions which will likely worsen or remain the same through the summer and into fall. For farmers and ranchers, this means water is limited for irrigation and livestock needs, hay production is at a standstill, and dry conditions are causing wildfires, particularly in the western part of the state.

Producers experiencing hardship due to the drought do have options available to them if they live in a county that has been designated as a primary or contiguous disaster area. To receive a disaster designation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has outlined a specific set of conditions: the county must meet a D2 “severe drought” intensity for eight consecutive weeks or more, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor. 

So far in 2016, USDA has designated Meade, Lawrence, Harding, Butte, Custer and Pennington counties as primary disaster areas, and Butte, Haakon, Perkins, Ziebach, Custer, Jackson, Fall River and Shannon counties as contiguous disaster counties due to worsening drought conditions. This makes these counties eligible for certain assistance from the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Farm and ranch operators seeking assistance in these counties should visit www.usda.gov, or the local FSA office, to find more information on the types of disaster assistance available.

This summer’s drought also underscores the importance of the federal crop insurance program. Crop insurance is an important safety net that provides South Dakota producers with much-needed certainty from Washington, D.C., when natural disasters strike. I opposed efforts to cut the important program during last year’s budget negotiations and worked with leadership to make sure the proposed cuts were restored. I will continue working to protect it in any upcoming discussions.


Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather. In South Dakota, our agricultural producers know to plan ahead for potential periods of drought and work to mitigate losses. We often have hot and dry weather conditions in the summer months, but this year’s drought has proven to be intense and ongoing. While western South Dakota is experiencing extreme drought conditions, the central and northeastern areas of South Dakota are having abnormally dry weather this summer as well.


The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center expects drought conditions to continue into October. If you are in an area of our state that has been seriously affected by the drought and need disaster assistance, please reach out to USDA or FSA. My office can also work to put you in touch with individuals at those agencies who can help.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of my state offices for assistance.