Pasture land, row crops 'deteriorated'

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Southeast Missouri's hot and dry conditions are the worst in the state, according to a weekly report on crop and soil conditions released Monday by the USDA.

In the past week, row crop and pasture land have "deteriorated considerably," the report said.

Southeast Missouri leads the state in topsoil dryness, according to the report. Area topsoil is listed as 65 percent "very short" and 28 percent "short" in moisture. Only 7 percent of the area's topsoil is listed as "adequate." Missouri's next-worse conditions are found in the northeast (64 percent very short) and east-central (62 percent short) regions.

In 22 years of raising cattle and growing hay, Belinda DeLay of Bloomfield, Mo., says she's never seen a year as tough as this one.

First came the April freeze that hit grasses at a critical growth period. Now drought conditions are destroying the hay and pasture grasses that were stunted.

Usually clover is being cut for the third time right about now, said DeLay, but this year it hasn't even been cut for a second time, and probably won't be until October.

"We don't have cattle anymore, but what possible pasture land we have looks like it's been sprayed with chemicals," DeLay said of her land west of Bloomfield in Stoddard County.

Hay and pasture land are most affected, said Gerald Bryan, an agronomist with the University of Missouri Extension in Cape Girardeau County.

Neal Franke, manager of Fruitland Livestock Sales Inc., said the company is seeing more livestock farmers sell their cattle, sheep and goats earlier and in larger quantities this year because of a lack of hay and grazable pasture, conditions that may lead to a small beef supply next year as cattle sold this year are slaughtered.

"If there wasn't much at all, there's nothing now," Franke said of the hay and grass farmers depend on to feed their cattle.

The drought will contribute to a hay shortage that has carried over from last growing season, also due to drought. Earlier this month the Missouri Farm Bureau urged the USDA to authorize farmers to graze in acres held in conservation reserve to alleviate problems caused by the hay shortage, but that authorization hasn't come yet.

Row crops like corn and soybeans are also in jeopardy, Bryan said. And rain may not help some of them.

"There's a lot corn right now that won't recover," Bryan said. Some fields may have yields reduced by half, he said. The hot, dry conditions are also affecting soybeans, many of which are at the stage when they fill their pods.

Like corn, some soybeans are almost to the point of no return, Bryan said, and even trees and shrubs in the wild are becoming stressed.

"We're in a critical situation right now," Bryan said.

Most Southeast Missouri counties were anywhere from 3.5 to 0.51 inches below average rainfall in June, according to the University of Missouri Extension. July figures haven't yet been released. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists Southeast Missouri as experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, according to its latest release last Thursday.

With the newest report on topsoil conditions the Drought Monitor will likely show a worsening drought when its newest update is released on Thursday.

To view the latest U.S. Drought Monitor visit www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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