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‘Our turn to struggle’: Staying positive despite weather woes

Commentary: A South Dakota family looks on the bright side amid 2019’s challenges.

Loretta Sorensen

July 15, 2019

2 Min Read
flood warning sign
FLOOD WOES: A flood warning sign erected near one of Jay and Lori Kokes’ alfalfa fields tilts in water logged ground. Jay says he isn’t sure his field will ever recover from the erosion and large amount of gravel and sand that the flood waters deposited. Loretta Sorensen

Like many farmers, my daughter and son-in-law, Lori and Jay Kokes, of Wagner, S.D., have been through the weather wringer this year and are bracing for another tough fall.

“I couldn’t get in the field to plant anything until the second week of June,” Jay says. “Some of my winter wheat winter-killed and some froze off. It was too wet to fertilize any of the wheat that survived so the yield potential is gone.”

In a typical year, Jay and Lori raise their own hay and corn to feed their 150-head cow herd. He’s waiting to see if he can harvest any alfalfa or grass hay.

“In late June, our roads were still so bad I couldn’t get to some of my alfalfa fields,” he says. “One of my hay fields is pretty well covered with water and the gravel that washed in with the March flood. Some areas of our pasture have been underwater so long that grass there is dead.”

A combination of washed-out culverts and deep wash outs in roads still make even daily travel a winding maze. Since gravel roads remained extremely soft, cattle had to slowly be moved from the cattle yard to pasture just half a horse trailer load at a time.

“There are so many roads and culverts out that it will take a long time to get it all repaired,” Jay says. “If it stays this wet, a new culvert would easily wash out again.”

Among Jay’s concerns for his land is the loss of valuable soil structure he’s built up through no-till over the past 15 years. Floodwaters were so deep and powerful that eroded areas of many fields in the area may take years to heal.

Jay and Lori are dealing with the situation one day at a time and searching for whatever bright spots they can find.

Jay and Lori Kokes, with daughter, Michaela (left)
ROUGH ROAD: Jay and Lori Kokes, pictured with their daughter, Michaela (left), pose for a photo in road near their farm that was damaged by flooding this spring.

“One blessing in it is that we’ll have more time to spend with family,” Lori says. “We’re not the only ones going through this. Neighbors here try to help and encourage each other. We can’t give up. We’re sticking together as a family.”

In March, they donated some hay and trucked it to Nebraska to help farmers dealing with flooding and losses there. In years past, they have donated hay to Kansas farmers when wildfires struck.

“This year, it’s our turn to struggle,” Jay says.

Sorensen is a writer from Yankton, S.D.

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