Shown above, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported all of Missouri is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. In Southeast Missouri, the conditions are classified as extreme.
It's been a brutal summer. We're currently living through one of the worst droughts in Missouri since the 1980s, and one of the worst nationwide since the 1950s, according to the National Climactic Data Center. We've already had more than 10 straight days with temperatures above 100 degrees this year, and forecasters predict little relief anytime soon. The National Weather Service has placed most of Southeast Missouri under a heat advisory until the end of July. On top of that, rain has been nonexistent. The Missouri Climate Center reports average rainfall in the state was less than two inches in June, around three inches less than normal.
The hot, dry conditions have taken their toll, especially in Southeast Missouri, which has been classified as having extreme drought conditions. A forest fire burned more than 600 acres in the Mark Twain National Forest in Iron County in June. Arson is suspected to have caused the fire, but the high temperatures and lack of rain made it burn faster and spread quickly. Numerous Fourth of July celebrations were cancelled out of concern a stray firework or spark might start a fire. River barges farther south have reported bottoming out on the Mississippi River, as the lack of rain has lowered its waters.
Farmers have been hit especially hard by this summer's unforgiving weather. Many crops are wilting in the field. The National Weather Service judges 97 percent of topsoil in Missouri poor or very poor, and 87 percent of Missouri's pastures as poor or very poor. Harvests will be drastically reduced, putting huge financial burdens on hard-working farmers.
The weather has also caused the price of hay to skyrocket. Farmers are feeding livestock hay usually set aside for winter, as most of the pastures have been ruined by the lack of rain and high temperatures. At the same time, half the hay is being produced, which could lead to a severe hay shortage later this year.
These events are troubling for a number of reasons. Farmers are the backbone of our state's economy. Agriculture is our state's largest industry. But droughts of this magnitude can have ripple effects, driving the prices of food up, and hurting not only farmers, but also ancillary businesses to agriculture, like farm machinery dealers, manufacturers and local banks and credit unions. We're all affected.
We received some welcome news this week, however. On Tuesday, the USDA granted Missouri's request to designate 114 counties as natural disaster areas due to the ongoing heat and drought. The designation will give farmers access to emergency assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Farms that have lost 30 percent of the estimated yield of a crop, or individual farmers with losses of more than 30 percent, will qualify for emergency, low-interest loans through the FSA. For more information on the disaster declaration and how to receive assistance, visit mda.mo.gov/drought.
Families throughout our community are facing hardships. The heat is particularly hard on the elderly. If you have elderly family members, friends or neighbors, make sure to check on them regularly. If you have to be outside for extended periods of time, drink plenty of water and take regular breaks out of the heat. We've still got almost two months of summer left, and the second half looks to be as hot and dry as the first. I will keep you up to date on any further news regarding the drought.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write to me at Jason Crowell; Missouri Senate; State Capitol; Jefferson City, MO 65101, or e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me on the web at www.senate.mo.gov/crowell.