A regional drought that has lingered in North and South Dakota for more than two months is creating concerns for the region’s cattle industry. As a result, cattle ranchers in both states are continuing to reduce the size of their herds in an effort to offset the lack of hay and forage caused by the drought.
The most recent USDA drought monitor shows 80% of South Dakota and 100% of North Dakota in a state of drought. North Dakota was hit particularly hard, with 25% of the state suffering from severe drought.
In response to these conditions, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R-SD) officially declared a statewide emergency on June 13. In North Dakota, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring implored that North Dakota follow its sister state in declaring a state of emergency.
As part of the emergency order, South Dakota has implemented emergency hay operations to provide badly needed feed for cattle – which is in short supply. With such severe feed shortages, ranchers and livestock producers are being forced to sell their cattle that are typically reserved for the fall auction. The order allows farmers and ranchers to cut and bale state highway ditches adjacent to their property to help temper the economic impact of low feed supply on ranchers.
“Selling calves now that would get a good price this fall means producers will likely take a hit on the animal’s value,” said Silvia Christen, executive Director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, in an interview with the Rapid City Journal. “Selling cows now means they won’t be there to produce calves in the spring, affecting income for next year.”
Commenting to Drovers, North Dakota’s State Agriculture Commissioner Goehring said it is “heartbreaking to see livestock producers lined up for almost a mile at auction markets. With a lack of adequate grazing and feed, they’re selling their genetics that took years to build.”
For now, ranchers will likely continue selling off stock. The National Weather Service is forecasting for above average temperatures across both states for the month of July, with no sign of “drought-busting” rains.
 Associated Press. Governor Issues Drought Emergency Declaration. Argus Leader, June 16, 2017. Web. http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2017/06/16/drought-conditions-south-dakota-stable-over-past-week/403179001/
 Holland, Deb. Ranchers Face Tough Decisions as Dakotas Remain Mired in Drought. Rapid City Journal, June 12, 2017. Web. http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/ranchers-face-tough-decisions-as-dakotas-remain-mired-in-drought/article_c43f5807-2b32-5a1c-82be-1df586c745d2.html
 Brown, S. & A. Davenpot. Producers in the Dakotas Continue Liquidation Due to Drought. Drovers, June 21, 2017. Web. http://www.cattlenetwork.com/news/industry/producers-dakotas-continue-liquidation-due-drought
USDA Photos by Lance Cheung, Shutterstock