RAPID CITY, S.D. – South Dakotans have seen their crops turn to dust this summer as the state suffers from the worst drought in the nation.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 80 percent of counties are in some stage of drought, and 15 percent are experiencing extreme drought, hitting farmers and ranchers especially hard.
Denise Gutzmer, a drought specialist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska, looks after the Drought Impact Reporter, an online database that allows South Dakotans to describe conditions on the ground.
“Some of the reports that people send to us really are pretty tragic,” she relates. “You know, they talk about how they’ve had to sell so many livestock, how they’re not going to get a crop, and how they’re just barely hanging on and just hoping things take a turn for the better.”
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture opened up Conservation Reserve Program lands for emergency grazing and haying to areas of South Dakota where the drought is worst.
States at Risk, a project that assesses the threats of climate change to each state, predicts the severity of droughts will increase by 75 percent over the next three decades for South Dakota.
The project also gives the state a failing grade for doing little to prepare and address future drought risks.
Gutzmer doesn’t connect current conditions to climate change, but does say that drought leads to changes for farmers and ranchers.
“A big part of drought and challenges is you have to find ways to adapt and be creative to survive the challenging times, to get through until the rain comes back and you do get a better crop,” she explains.
Unfortunately, Gutzmer says forecasts show no relief in the immediate future for the Rushmore State.