Growing Season: Things Have To Work Just Right

Midwest Climate Hub director Dennis Todey (left) visits with Alvin Novak, board president for the Southeast South Dakota Experiment Farm near Beresford.

BERESFORD — Dennis Todey believes this year’s harvest will require a fairy tale ending.

"We need what I call the ‘Goldilocks situation,’" he said. "You need closer-to-average temperatures, … not too much cool, regular rainfall, and everything has to come together just right.

"But we also have to push this crop into the fall to get the full maturity."

Todey spoke Tuesday at the Southeast South Dakota Experiment Farm Field Day at the site located southwest of Beresford. Todey formerly served as the South Dakota state climatologist and currently serves as director of the Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, Iowa.

Tuesday’s presentation opened with audience questions about the record rainfall and the impact of climate change.

Todey noted climate change has become a reality, particularly for agriculture. He said he couldn’t and wouldn’t speak to the politics of the issue, but he acknowledged the need to address the changing conditions.

"How we deal with it is another subject," he said. "But we need to answer it really quickly."

However, Todey focused much of his talk on the current crops, which are entering a critical period. He told the Press & Dakotan that the region could be entering a flash drought situation during the next 7-10 days.

"As long as it wouldn’t last too long, I don’t think it will be anything major," he added.

South Dakota is coming off its fourth wettest spring, and South Dakota and Nebraska are coming off the wettest 12-month period on record, he said. The region desperately needs heat for growing days, particularly with the late planting because of flooded fields, he added.

"We need to push this season much later. Fortunately, that has been happening, which is to our advantage," he said. "We started so late (with planting) that a lot of things need to happen. If not, we’ll have very immature crops or very wet crops."

Todey explained his work at the Climate Hub, which covers an eight-state region. In addition, he works with the Missouri River basin because it plays such a pivotal role in agriculture.

Todey showed slides, using Turner County as an example, of the impact of growing degree days and heat units. Based on the planting time, he calculated the approximate date needed for a successful harvest.

Some factors come into play, he said. Corn planted late has the ability to shorten its number of growing degree days, he added.

Looking at the big picture, Todey explained how precipitation amounts have changed during the past century.

"South Dakota is in the middle of the shift," he said. "There has been much more change in the spring and fall than during the summer and winter."

Unfortunately, spring and fall are also the times when farmers want to do fieldwork, he said.

"It’s a bigger issue that we’re dealing with across the region," he said. "How do we deal with the changing climate and the continuous wetter springs?"

Todey showed a photo from this past spring, featuring a field inundated with water. Not only was the farmer losing his window for planting opportunities, but he was also experiencing the possibility of erosion damage that couldn’t be reversed.

"This picture makes me sick," he said, looking at the screen. "We’re losing one of the biggest resources we have — our soil and the soil nutrients."

The winters are moving toward warmer conditions, Todey said. The changing climate has made it possible to introduce crops into new areas or to take advantage of longer seasons.

Casting an eye toward the next month, Todey said farmers need continued regular rainfall because of the crop’s root stage. Some crops are showing emergence issues at a time when it is normally not a concern, he said.

"Without rainfall, conditions could start to show up as stress, especially as we get to tasseling," he said. "But we also need those growing days and to push this crop later (before harvesting)."

Todey left his audience with a note of optimism. While the Yankton region has seen a number of challenges, other parts of the United States are experiencing worse conditions.

"You’re actually in a pretty good situation, compared to other places," he said. "Have a great rest of your growing season."


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