South Dakota farmers reeling from year's second record-breaking flood

By Jessie Higgins
A farmer attempts to save his hay from rising water in South Dakota on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Jim Petrik
A farmer attempts to save his hay from rising water in South Dakota on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Jim Petrik

Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Farmers in South Dakota, many still recovering from historic spring flooding, were hit with another record-shattering flood this week.

Although it is too soon to determine the full extent of damage, the flooding could prevent farmers from harvesting thousands of acres of corn, soy and other crops. It also has destroyed miles of county roads and bridges and threatens livestock across the region.


"What's crazy is we saw water like this already this spring, and that was way beyond anything anybody had seen," said Jim Petrik, who farms near Gayville, in the southeast part of the state. "Now, six months later, it's all water again. It's almost Biblical out there."

South Dakota normally receives just a couple of inches of rain in September.

"Usually, this time of year, the dust is blowing and it is bone dry out," said Matt Bainbridge, a farmer near Ethan.


But beginning late last week and over the weekend, torrential rain fell across the eastern part of the state and parts of Minnesota, said Scott Vanderwal, the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, who farms near Volga. Some areas saw nearly a foot of rain.

"This flood is breaking the records set in the spring," said Angel Kasper, a spokeswoman for South Dakota Farm Families.

Several rivers and tributaries swelled, washing away roads and bridges, filling grain bins and drowning crops that were nearly ready for harvest.

Many places remain underwater Tuesday, making it is impossible to assess the full damage.

Livestock producers scrambled over the weekend to move animals to higher ground.

"We were able to get everybody to a higher spot in the pasture," said Bainbridge, who raises cattle in addition to growing corn and soybeans. He said he has heard stories of other producers having to evacuate herds to other sites as the water enveloped entire farms.

Bainbridge said much of his farm remains underwater, including his pasture land and his corn and soy fields. Like many South Dakota farmers, his land also flooded this spring. That, he said, destroyed his fences and prevented him from planting most of his land.


"The fields were too saturated," Bainbridge said. "We didn't hardly plant anything, really -- maybe 15 percent of our corn fields and 15 percent of our soybeans."

It was the same story across the state, where weather prevented farmers from planting nearly 4 million acres this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This second round of flooding now threatens the limited crops that farmers were able to plant, Kasper said.

"It's a real serious situation for anyone who makes a living off farming," the Farm Bureau's Vanderwal said.

The plants might not survive the deluge, and even if they do, farmers will have to wait for the fields to dry before they can get their tractors in for harvest. Harvest must happen before the first frost -- which will be a tight window.

And, because the flooding has destroyed many roads and bridges, even farmers who are able to harvest their grains might not be able to move the produce off their properties.

"Finding roads that are good enough to get the crops to market is going to be a challenge," Bainbridge said. "The road we use to get to our grain elevator is washed out. And the road that goes to the ethanol plant -- a bridge on that road is gone."


By Tuesday, the water in many areas had begun to recede, according to the National Weather Service. However, more rain is forecast later in the week.

"That would be an absolute disaster," farmer Petrik said.

The back-to-back flooding, when coupled with the low crop prices from America's various trade disputes, are weighing on farmers.

"A lot of farmers have a heavy heart right now," the South Dakota Farm Families' Kasper said. "This is another hard hit to take; 2019 has not been an easy year."

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