Hail cut down crops across central South Dakota last week, especially in Sully County.

Todd Yackley sent out photos of one of his farm’s sunflower fields, showing a before and after effect of the hail that chopped down hundreds of acres of the tall, big-stalked plants on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Yackley manages his family’s farm and ranch operation based just west of Onida, growing wheat, sunflowers, corn and soybeans.

Last summer a similar band of hail moved across the same region, also from northwest to southeast, but it was smaller hailstones in 2018 that sliced grasses like a flail, killing pheasants, hawks and deer.

This one had bigger stones and high winds.

“It was pretty devastating,” he said.

“We had one 300-acre field of sunflowers and one 160-acre field that just got wiped out like that. Up in that part of the county, northwest of Agar, got hit pretty bad. West of Agar along the highway we had 800 acres of corn that got hit pretty good.”

Agar is a few miles north of Onida, about 40 miles north-northeast of Pierre, not far from Lake Oahe.

“This one went all through Sully County,” said Sully County Emergency Manager Curt Olson, who also is a deputy sheriff. “It went from northwest to southeast. That area west of Agar was heavily damaged. Several buildings and homes got windows broken and damage to siding.”

The National Weather Service described the large area damaged by the storm on Aug. 6: “Extensive crop and property damage resulted from up to 80 mph wind gusts and/or large hail to baseball-sized-plus across portions of Corson, Dewey, Walworth, Potter, Sully, Hughes and Lyman counties. Two rounds of severe storms about an hour apart affected those roughly from Blunt to Lower Brule to Iona.”

Several reports of hail 3 inches in diameter were corroborated by the weather service.

Already, Sully County has sustained several millions of dollars damage this year from the winter storms and spring rains that caused flooding, said Olson, who has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for financial aid for those losses.

The federally subsidized crop insurance program covers hail damage for farmers when it’s a total loss, like it was in some cases here.

To break down the six-foot-tall sunflower plants with the big heads took quite a hailstorm, Yackley said.

He didn’t get over to see them before they melted down.

“But I think they had to be 2 inches,” he said, judging from the damage to buildings and crops and from reports from other victims. “And it was really windy. I know it rolled some big round bales through a fence, through fields, a quarter mile into another field.”

He’s in the middle of harvest, too.

“We are about three-fourths done with winter wheat harvest and some of the spring wheat is ready to go,” Yackley said.

The wet spring meant many of his crops were planted late, which means he’s banking on good weather to allow them to mature before they are cut off by winter temperatures..

“The corn and sunflowers look really good, the ones that didn’t get damaged. But we are going to need a long fall. If it freezes the first part of September, a lot of the corn will be in trouble.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, Aug. 12, USDA pegged corn acres and bushels per acre higher nationwide, which sent crop prices down, according to news reports.

USDA’s production report said 90 million acres had been planted to corn; the average estimate of the industry was 87.7 million acres. Corn production will be 13.9 billion bushels, USDA projected, compared with traders’ expectations of 13.1 billion, and USDA’s July estimate of 13.8 billion.

South Dakota’s corn crop is in good condition but it remains behind the normal pace, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service based in Sioux Falls reported Monday in its weekly crop progress survey of county crop watchers.

NASS said 64 percent of the state’s corn is in good or excellent condition and 28 percent is looking fair. Silking is going on over 85 percent of the crop, below the 96 percent by this time in the five-year average. The report said only 25 percent of kernels are in the dough stage by the week’s end on Sunday, Aug. 11, compared with 69 percent a year ago and 51 percent in the five-year average.

Soybean condition rated 2 percent very poor, 8 poor, 37 fair, 40 good, and 13 excellent.

Soybeans blooming was 83 percent, behind 96 last year and 94 average. Setting pods was 47 percent, well behind 79 last year and 76 average.

Winter wheat harvested was 68 percent, well behind 96 last year and 90 average.

Spring wheat condition rated 2 percent very poor, 4 poor, 32 fair, 47 good, and 15 excellent.

Spring wheat harvested was 16 percent, well behind 76 last year and 61 average.

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