Rainfall in mid-Missouri might help drought-affected livestock

Saturday, September 1, 2012 | 4:54 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — While this weekend's rain might not do much for corn and soybean crops, it may help Missouri's livestock.

The drought has dramatically affected the forages on which livestock graze, and the rain could help restore those plants, said Bill Wiebold, a professor at MU's Division of Plant Sciences.

"Some of the plants people use as pastures are closely related to what we use as grasses in our lawns," Wiebold said. "So you look at lawns around town – they're brown and not growing. That's what happened to our pastures, as well."

Mid-Missouri has been ravaged by drought throughout a hot summer. But the problems began earlier with above-average heat in the summer of 2011 and a dry fall, winter and spring, MU meteorology professor Anthony Lupo said. Before Friday's rain, Columbia had not received more than an inch of rainfall since April.

Most of the corn crop died early this year, Wiebold said. Some farmers have started harvesting the remaining crops in order to salvage what they can.

In non-drought conditions, Missouri's corn crop should have yielded 141 bushels per acre this year, Wiebold said. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting that the yield will actually be 75 bushels per acre, a 47 percent decrease. 

Unlike the corn, many of Missouri's soybean plants are still alive, but many of the plants have few pods on them, Wiebold said. While a few late-planted soybeans might benefit from the rain, any crop would yield only a small harvest.

It would be difficult to determine exactly how much rain is needed to end the drought, Wiebold said.

Plants depend on the soil's water reserve, and rain prevents its depletion.

"The best way to look at soil is it's kind of a savings account for water," Wiebold said."What's unusual this year is that savings account is almost empty."

Rain resulting from tropical systems — the kind falling on Columbia — is particularly good for moisture-depleted soil because it falls steadily, making it easier for the soil to absorb, Lupo said.

Also, the rain decreased the risk of outside fires. Friday afternoon, The Missouri Department of Conservation put an end to the statewide fire ban it issued on conservation areas earlier this summer, citing the significant rainfall.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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