Summer drought threatens Missouri crops, farmers

Friday, June 29, 2012 | 3:33 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 17, 2012

COLUMBIA — With no end to the heat and drought in sight, fields and farmers are feeling the pressure as yields begin to diminish.

Kelly Forck, a soybean and corn farmer outside of Jefferson City, worries that his livelihood may be threatened if the dry weather persists. Forck thinks that without significant rain in the next week – and beyond – his crops could take a turn for the worse.

"Things are going to look pretty desolate pretty fast if we don't see some precipitation," said Forck. "Production is the name of the game and without water, it's game over...if we don't see some additional moisture come along, we're going to see the yields diminish rapidly, extremely fast."

"We're optimists, and we'll hope that we can hang out and that we can continue to produce an abundant food supply, but I think that's going to be an extreme challenge," Forck said.

Forck is only one of many farmers dealing with the prolonged drought conditions.

“The area is turning very desert-like,” Anthony Lupo, chair of the MU Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences, said.

Lupo believes the drought will persist for the remainder of the summer, citing a mixture of events: Winter was much warmer than normal, which caused more evaporation, and even though there was ample rain in early spring, hot temperatures in May and June caused that moisture to evaporate.

The drought has been affecting crops throughout the Midwest, including corn and soybeans, and there's no rain in the forecast through Thursday, with high temperatures near 100 each day.

Ray Massey, a professor in the MU Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, said corn prices on futures markets have increased during the past few weeks and will continue to rise.

The price of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was $6.30 a bushel on Wednesday, up from $5.30 per bushel nine days ago, Massey said. On Wednesday, the price of corn in Missouri was near $6.60.

He also said that even though crop prices will be higher if the drought persists, farmers will still have some loss due to a decrease in production from the drought.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Missouri corn yielded a harvest of 3.07 million acres in 2011, generating around $2.24 billion. In the same year, soybeans were grown on 5.2 million acres in Missouri and brought in about $2.26 billion.

MU state climatologist Pat Guinan, in his Missouri Climate Center report issued on Wednesday, said May was one of the driest months on record in Missouri. Based on the history of previous dry spring months, Guinan doesn't expect July to be much different. In the report, he attributes the dryness to less rainfall in the spring as well as loss of water in soil due to higher temperatures.

During the month of May, the soil lost an average of 0.2 inches of water daily, which resulted in Missouri undergoing the driest May-June period since 1988, according to Guinan's report.

The U.S. Drought Monitor categorizes drought severity on a scale that includes the designations abnormally dry, moderate, severe, extreme and exceptional. Boone County, as well as 86.93 percent of counties in Missouri, is experiencing a moderate drought. However, 9.19 percent of Missouri counties are in extreme droughts, though none are currently in exceptional droughts. Most of the U.S. currently falls under the moderate drought designation.

The Missouri USDA Farm Service Agency is compiling damage assessment reports for all 114 counties in Missouri – the first step in declaring counties disaster areas. A report to Gov. Jay Nixon is expected next Friday.

While many Missouri farmers have crop insurance to deal with situations such as droughts, their deductibles might still not be enough to cover losses, Massey said. "It keeps him from falling flat, but doesn’t keep him from falling.” 

"Agriculture is a business, and we have all our product out there to hopefully grow something," Forck said. "We're optimistic we'll survive and have some harvestable crop."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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