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South Dakota Drought Is Worsening, Climatologist Says

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Drought conditions are intensifying in South Dakota and little relief is expected in the next three months, State Climatologist Dennis Todey said Monday.

Isolated areas in western and northeastern South Dakota got an inch or two of rain in the past week, but most of the rest of the state was sprinkled with less than a half inch, Todey told the South Dakota Drought Task Force. The group of state and federal officials is working to help farmers, ranchers and others deal with the hot, dry conditions.

The forecast for the next five days indicates a chance of significant rain in the Sioux Falls area, but most of the rest of the state will likely not get enough rain to help crops and pastures, Todey said.

"We're going to have a continuation of what we've had so far," Todey said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted that the drought will persist or intensify in South Dakota and much of the nation through October, Todey said.

About 20 percent of the state, including counties in southeastern and western South Dakota, is in extreme drought, the second-worst category. Another 39 percent is in severe drought, the third worst drought designation, with most of the rest of the state in moderate drought. A few counties are rated only as abnormally dry.

Much of the corn crop has been damaged in southeastern South Dakota, where farmers are cutting the corn for silage because it has lost its potential to produce much grain, Todey said. Soybeans are stressed, but some fields could recover if they receive rain soon, he said.

The drought now covers two-thirds of the continental U.S., stretching from Ohio west to California and running from Texas north through the Dakotas.

The hot temperatures and lack of rain also have dried up pastures, hurt hay production and threatened water supplies for livestock in South Dakota.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has authorized emergency haying and grazing on land in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take land out of production to guard against erosion and create wildlife habitat — though wetland areas are excluded. Craig Schaunaman, South Dakota director of the federal Farm Service Agency, said he is working to persuade USDA officials to approve emergency haying and grazing on those wetland areas.

"We're still working on it here. We haven't given up on it yet," Schaunaman said when asked about the chances that haying and grazing would be allowed in wetland areas.

Jon Farris, deputy state agriculture secretary, said officials are checking into reports that trucks hauling hay from Canada have been prevented from entering South Dakota because the state restricts the height of such loads.

Jay Esperance, director of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division, said some locally heavy rains helped put out some recent fires, but the fire danger will not drop until long gentle rains cover the state. Firefighters have been busy in recent weeks with dozens of fires started by lightning strikes.

"Overall, we're still in dire straits," Esperance said.

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