COLUMBIA — Water — too much and not enough — is giving Kelly Forck fits.
On the one hand, the longtime soybean farmer said, rainfall over the past month hasn't been enough to secure a strong yield.
On the other hand, parts of Forck's land near Jefferson City are flooded from the Missouri River, which has been so full upriver that it has overflowed levees and caused towns to evacuate.
"The river is elevated as high as our production fields and has seeped and flooded some part of the crops," Forck said Monday. "We also are seeing acres that are being affected by extremely hot weather and not adequate moisture."
The recent, seemingly relentless spell of hot, dry weather is a big concern for mid-Missouri farmers. Some, like Forck, have the double-edged challenge of conditions being too wet or too dry. Others are preoccupied almost solely with the lack of rain.
John Sam Williamson, who farms soybeans in the McBaine river bottom, said the rule of thumb is that crops need an inch of rain a week.
"If it's above 90, then they need more than an inch," he said. "Many days in July, we have been behind in rainfall."
July was hot and dry
In the coming days, high temperatures in Columbia will fall to the low 90s and high 80s, and some nighttime lows will be in the 60s. The welcome forecast comes after a stretch of high temperatures that reached a record-setting apex of 108 degrees Tuesday, up from the past record of 104 in 1991.
Records kept at Sanborn Field show that high temperatures were in the 90s for 17 days in July — 10 of them were 95 degrees or higher — and the high on four days topped 100 degrees. Nine days were in the 80s, five of them 88 or 89 degrees. One day was in the high 70s.
Columbia Regional Airport, about 10 miles south of Columbia, has a slightly hotter record for July: There were 20 days of 90-plus temperatures, 12 of them 95 or hotter, said Tony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at MU.
"What's different about this year is that it has been so hot," Lupo said. "Last year, we had high nighttime temperatures due to high dew points and relative humidity. This year, we're seeing that, too, but this year has higher temperatures, and that's causing big problems."
Lupo said this has been the hottest summer since 1980. The weather over the past few seasons has been similar to that seen in 1935 to 1936, which led to the hottest Missouri summer on record, he said.
"The winter of '35 and '36 was one of the coldest, and that spring had a lot of tornadoes," Lupo said. "That following summer was extremely dry and hot, just like the one we are experiencing now."
The La Nina climate cycle, which happens every three to four years on average and is occurring now, is causing cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers, Lupo said.
Over the four weeks ending July 24, 3.19 inches of rain had fallen in Boone County, according to a weekly Crop Progress and Condition Report from the National Agriculture Statistics Service. During similar time periods, 9.95 inches fell last year, 5.6 inches in 2009, and 6.62 inches in 2008, according to the report.
In Columbia, 1.31 inches of rain fell during July, according to Sanborn Field data. The July total was 10.9 inches in 2010, 5.45 inches in 2009 and 10.21 in 2008. The National Weather Service says "normal" precipitation for Columbia in July is 3.8 inches.
"When you don't have enough rain, you are going to feel the sun's heat more," Lupo said. "You will feel it more because the sun's energy won't be working to evaporate water."
There's still a chance for the soybeans
Meanwhile on farms, soil moisture has been in "precipitous decline," according to the crop progress report. In the report's coverage area that includes Boone County, 35 percent of topsoil moisture is "very short" and 32 percent is "short."
The crop progress report said the condition of soybeans took a significant hit in July. Williamson is staying optimistic, though.
“It won’t be a record-breaking year," he said. "But I think we still have a good chance for a fairly good year.”
If the soybeans were planted early, they can hold on pretty long for rain, he said.
"But the longer it is dry and hot, the less chance that's going to happen," Williamson said. "My crop was all planted in May — they have a chance to do well if we get some rain soon."
Williamson said corn, on the other hand, is less able to recover from hot, dry conditions.
The National Weather Service says there's a 40 percent chance for thunderstorms on Thursday and a 30 percent chance on Friday for the Columbia area.
“Some farmers have irrigation systems, but besides that, there isn’t really anything you can do to solve the problem,” Williamson said. “You can’t put a tarp over (the crops) or blow fans on them — that isn’t going to do anything.”
Forck, who has the two-fold problem of not enough and too much water, doesn't have an irrigation system, but he does use a drainage system to draw water from flooded areas back to the river.
“The one risk that all of us have the hardest time managing is Mother Nature," Forck said. "We understand that, so we try to protect ourselves the best that we can.”
Forck thinks a moderate rainfall of one inch would significantly help his crops. Otherwise, he fears he'll start losing some of them.
He feels kind of stuck.
“We are going to see some loss from the elevated river situation, and there’s a strong chance (the non-flooded crops) will burn up if we don’t get some rainfall soon,” he said.
Cattle have been affected
Both beef and dairy cows have been struggling in the high temperatures.
Karen and Don Mathis, who have about 150 beef cattle at their Angel Acres Farm southeast of Jefferson City just inside Osage County, have had to work around the heat to ensure the health of their livestock.
Their cattle stay in the shade of cedar trees or the cool of the creek bed and won't leave during the peak heat of the day. But their reluctance to leave those areas means they have become overgrazed, and the lack of rain has caused the creek to stop running, making the water undrinkable.
"It's been difficult to move them," Karen Mathis said. "They don't want to come out of the shade, but we need to get them fresh water and grass. We have to wake up earlier and stay up later because moving the cattle in the heat hurts them."
Phil Wenger of Wenger Dairy Farm in Versailles, north of Lake of the Ozarks in Moniteau County, said milk production is down significantly.
“The heat causes the cows to lose their appetite, and if cows aren’t eating enough, then they won’t be able to produce enough strong milk," he said.
Wenger’s beef cattle have been affected by the heat but not because of lack of appetite.
“I’m going to be short on feed, the rain was too dry and nothing is growing — there’s no grass,” he said.
If the dry, hot weather persists much longer, Wenger fears he won’t be able to properly care for his beef cattle much longer and will have to sell earlier than usual.
In the meantime, he is doing what he can to make sure his cattle stay healthy. His land provides ample natural shade for resting, and he makes sure there is fresh water on hand.
“It’s been really hard on them this summer — it’s been really hot," Wenger said. "But I haven’t lost any cattle yet, and I don’t plan on it."