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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Big mistake to dismiss drought

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 | 11:54 a.m. CDT

Cooler weather and the bright sunshine of fall days take our attention away from the equally obvious and very serious.

Officially, a state of emergency caused by this summer's drought in Missouri has been extended to Nov. 15. Unofficially, the drought's impact will last well beyond that for our region.

Agriculture is the primary economic engine in northwest Missouri and northeast Kansas. Crop farmers began feeling the effects early this summer as drought-stressed plants failed to produce. Livestock producers now are struggling to stay afloat in a wild market.

Producers unable to find or afford feed for their cattle are sending hundreds to market. Others are preparing to pay top dollar just to keep their animals alive through the winter.

Economists estimate pork producers could lose as much as $60 per hog this fall. With Triumph Foods and Premium Standard Farms as major employers in the region, the impact will be significant.

For those of us who eat, the drought also will make its unwelcome presence known in due time. Meat, poultry and dairy prices are expected to rise about 8 percent in 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has done the math: Just a 5 percent increase in food prices adds about $600 to the annual grocery bill for a family of four.

In August, the Mid-America Business Conditions index remained below neutral for the second month in a row, the first time that's happened since July 2009. Economists say the drought and its impact are a big reason why the region's economy will struggle well into next year.

While we prepare for a lean winter, we also recognize reason to be grateful. Even with the exceptionally dry conditions, this year's corn harvest is expected to be one of the 10 largest on record. Meanwhile, the state of Missouri has provided funds for farmers to drill 5,800 emergency wells, and more applications are being processed.

As we continue in a state of drought for weeks ahead, we confront two divergent truths: It could be worse, but the worst may not be over.

Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Distributed by the Associated Press. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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