KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden on Monday asked the federal government to declare 39 drought-stricken counties in western Missouri disaster areas.
A disaster declaration by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman would allow farmers in the affected areas to gain access to federal drought assistance, such as low-interest loans.
Holden said many farmers face crop and livestock losses for the second straight year because of drought conditions. The northwest part of the state is considered extremely dry, while other parts of the western half of Missouri range from moderately to severely dry.
"We must have some relief," Holden said in a news release. "If it won't come in the form of rain, we'll have to ask for it in disaster aid."
Holden asked for the following counties to be declared disasters: Andrew, Atchison, Barton, Bates, Benton, Buchanan, Caldwell, Carroll, Cass, Cedar, Chariton, Clay, Clinton, Cooper, Daviess, DeKalb, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Henry, Hickory, Holt, Jackson, Johnson, Lafayette, Linn, Livingston, Mercer, Morgan, Nordaway, Pettis, Platte, Putnam, Ray, St. Clair, Saline, Sullivan, Vernon and Worth.
The request was based on an assessment by the USDA's Missouri Farm Services Agency.
Farmers have lost crops and are being forced to haul water for livestock -- a chore that can be costly, said Steve McIntosh, environmental manager for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
"They're getting extremely concerned, especially with livestock water supplies," McIntosh said.
Hot, dry weather was expected to continue throughout the state through Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported. But rain and cooler conditions are possible later this week.
The Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service reported Monday that row crops and pasture conditions continued to deteriorate over most of the state during the past week.
Pasture conditions were rated 46 percent very poor, 30 percent poor, 16 percent fair, 7 percent good and 1 percent excellent. The statistics service said there is concern that the necessity for supplemental hay feeding this early in the year could result in hay shortages in the winter.
The agency also said topsoil moisture supply is rated at just 10 percent adequate.
Even if it were to rain, the agency said, the corn crop is too advanced to benefit, while soybeans are in urgent need of moisture.
Corn condition was rated 29 percent very poor, 29 percent poor, 23 percent fair, 16 percent good and 3 percent excellent. Condition of soybeans was rated as 32 percent very poor, 29 percent poor, 23 percent fair, 13 percent good and 3 percent excellent.
Holden said he was working with state and federal agencies and Missouri's congressional delegation to get aid for producers and to remove barriers to water access.
"These are dire times for our crop and livestock producers," Holden said, "and we must do all we can to help them make it through this situation."
Because of the drought, many communities in northwest Missouri have called for voluntary or mandatory restrictions on water use.
Milan, Mo., has had mandatory water restrictions since July 22. Residents there have not been allowed to water their laws and gardens, wash automobiles outside or clean outdoor surfaces with water.
"It's really brown up here," said City Clerk Lisa Hurt, adding that some people have been saving dishwater or water from bathing for flower and vegetable gardens.
More recently, Daviess County Public Water Supply District No. 1 placed some of its users under water-use restrictions as demand increased in the last week because of high temperatures. The district asked residents south of Pattonsburg, including the towns of Weatherby, Winston and Altamont, to stop filling swimming pools and stop watering lawns and gardens.
McIntosh of the Department of Natural Resources said the Grand River near Gallatin has dropped to a level expected only once every 50 years. If hot, dry conditions continue for another week, McIntosh said, the river is expected to drop to a level seen only once every 100 years.
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