JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Comparing Missouri’s continuous drought to the Dust Bowl era, federal and state officials said they are concerned about the state’s rainfall totals.
It’s been the topic of the summer: drought. Experts said at Tuesday’s Drought Assessment Committee meeting that conditions are expected to persist into the winter months. Besides the impact on the agriculture industry, Missouri Governor Mike Parson said he’s hoping for large snowfalls in the northern states this winter to help with navigation on the rivers.
“You have to be hoping for things in the upper basin of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that we’re going to get some snow that comes down from the northern states to help us, because the other problem we’re looking at is the rivers, just being able to get up and down it, and if those happen to shut down, that’s another huge impact to the economy,” Parson said.
The drought continues to take a toll on one of Missouri’s largest industries. The lack of rainfall leaves farmers to make tough decisions, like sending cattle to market early.
“I know my friends down at home; a lot of them sold cattle already because they can’t afford to buy the hay, and they don’t have the grass,” Parson said.
A farmer himself, Parson said his son has been feeding hay since July, something that normally doesn’t happen until December or January.
The Drought Assessment Committee was activated after Parson signed an executive order earlier this spring declaring a drought alert. The group is made up of state and federal agencies.
Missouri Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Chris Kleklen told the group that the drought is now impacting the navigation of harvested crops, requiring the loads on barges to be lightened.
“When you’re used to loading barges in St. Louis at 65,000 bushels, and you’re loading it at 40,000 to get it through lower water, you can’t be that competitive; you can’t be as efficient,” Klenklen said. “Farmers are not being offered as good of a price for their grain because it’s going to cost a lot more to get the grain moved from here to New Orleans if it’s on the river.”
Some parts of the state have been in continuous drought conditions for nearly two years. Mark Fuchs with the National Weather Service told the committee Wednesday that it’s been nearly a century since Missouri has seen anything like this.
“The only thing that comes to mind is the Dust Bowl era in the ’30s,” Fuchs said. “Then, about 20 years later, we had some really dry and hot conditions in the early to mid-50s. Both of those periods effected Missouri quite a bit statewide.”
While most of the state saw rainfall in August, which improved conditions, precipitation outlooks for the coming weeks and months don’t look promising.
“While I’m concerned about this drought and concerned particularly going into this winter, if we don’t see some relief going into the spring, we could be in a very dire situation,” director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Dru Buntin said.
State climatologist Zach Leasor warned the committee that fire risks are elevating across the state due to dry conditions and low humidity.
“Dry days with lower humidity and high winds, it really only takes one day to have bad fire weather conditions with fuel that is there from drought conditions,” Leasor said. “If we don’t see a lot of rainfall in the next three months, I think we are going to have a lot of locations that are going to have back-to-back, year-long precipitation totals that were below normal, and maybe we do start to think about this as a continuous two-year drought.”
Back in August, Leasor told the committee that high evaporation rates were causing the state to lose roughly a quarter of an inch of rainfall back into the atmosphere each day. With temperatures starting to reach normal for this time of year, Leasor said rates aren’t as high.
As of Sept. 28, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed central and western parts of the state experiencing an extreme drought, while other areas are in a severe and moderate drought. Southwest and southeast Missouri are the only two parts of the state where there is no drought.
“Whether you’re on a farm or not, you’re going to be affected by it [the drought] because if farmers can’t produce their crop and they can’t get their product to the table, that’s going to cost the everyday consumer.” Parson said. “The reality of it is, most people aren’t going to be over this until sometime, probably next year, we hope.”
Farmers can now access emergency water or hay in the following ways:
- Boat ramps at 25 Missouri state parks will be open for farmers to collect water, with almost 700 acres available for haying at 17 state parks.
- Boat ramps in 36 Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) areas are also now open for water collection.
- The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is offering special over-width hauling permits at no charge to help farmers and ranchers move hay.
- The Department of Agriculture does offer a mental health resource for the farming community.
The AgriStress hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Producers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak to a healthcare professional.
DNR is asking Missouri residents to submit information about the local drought conditions online. Buntin said this can help the committee create more accurate maps, allowing members to work better with state and federal partners.
DNR also has a variety of resources online and continues to add information on drought mitigation and assistance opportunities. The group plans to meet again in September.
The committee is recommending the governor extend his executive order, allowing the group to continue to meet until early spring. The order was set to expire on Dec. 1. The group plans to meet again in early December.