Ranchers gather to pray for rain as drought fears persist
South Dakota ranchers are praying for the best and planning for the worst.
Clay Conry is the pastor of the Prairie Home Church in the heart of northwestern South Dakota ranching country, near the town of Faith. His congregation is made up of area ranchers who are concerned about the drought. Those concerns prompted him to hold a “Pray for Rain” worship service.
Some ranchers are considering selling off their herds if they don't have enough grass for their cattle this spring and summer.
“The land, of course, is resilient," Conry said. “It's been through droughts before, and the people are resilient. They've been through droughts before, but it's not easy to have to make those decisions."
Conry said people from as far as Wyoming were in attendance.
“So just getting together and seeing, 'Hey, we're not alone in this struggle, there are people that we can lean on,'" Conry said. “You start to think about the mental health side of things, too, that we have a community of people who are going through the same struggles that we are, and we can lean on each other. We can help each other.”
For some South Dakota ranchers, this is a third straight year of drought conditions. Grass stockpiles are dwindling and some ranchers are expecting only half of normal grass production this year.
“Pray for Rain. Plan For Drought,” is a special project by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition and its partners. Its purpose is to provide resources to help mitigate the impacts of long-term drought conditions.
Alexander Smart is the agriculture and natural resources program leader with South Dakota State University Extension at Brookings. He says early planning is key.
“I’d calculate stocking rates based on that and start to make culling decisions,” Smart said. “It’s clear to me that if you don't make changes, you're going to get caught off guard.”
The South Dakota Grassland Coalition offers a mentoring network as a way to help farmers and ranchers.
“They have a road map to follow rather than just waiting for things to come,” Smart said. “Talk to them, reach out and say, ‘Hey, I need help. How do I put one of those things together?’”
SDSU is working on an estimator that uses satellite imagery to show how much forage is currently available, and its quality, with the capability to predict how much forage will be available later in the season.