Rains help drought, but don't end it

Saturday, September 15, 2007
Don Scherer moved through rows of corn with a combine Friday on the farm of Doug Gosche, south of Chaffee, Mo. Though the crops were irrigated, the heat and dry weather still took a toll, according to Gosche. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Recent rains delayed the corn harvest for some Southeast Missouri farmers but helped to mitigate the drought the area has experienced throughout the summer.

Those rains have kept the drought from growing worse throughout much of Southeast Missouri, but for the most part did little to replenish moisture supplies that have been steadily drained by months of abnormally dry weather.

So far this month, Cape Girardeau has received 2.86 inches of rain, according to measurements taken by the National Weather Service office at Paducah, Ky., 1.52 inches above the average amount.

In contrast, the National Weather Service observation site at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport received only 0.01 inches of rainfall in August, making it the driest August on record according to National Weather Service records dating back to 1961.

Despite the rain total so far for September, much of Southeast Missouri still remains in a "severe" drought classification, while some of the southernmost areas in the region are still classified in "extreme" drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday afternoon.

Even more improvement was seen in counties to the west like Iron and Reynolds, where rains from 3 to 5 inches have begun to curtail drought conditions, said Pat Guinan, state climatologist with the University of Missouri. Rain in Southeast Missouri was more scattered, helping to relieve the drought in some areas but doing little to change conditions in others, particularly the southern counties, Guinan said.

"The rains did mitigate, but by no means eliminate, the drought," Guinan said.

After a brief interruption in some areas, corn harvesting resumed this week.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, covering the week ending Sept. 9, corn harvests in Missouri are running ahead of normal this year, with the harvest 29 percent complete by the time of the report. The hot, dry conditions experienced this summer didn't have a large negative impact on yields in Southeast Missouri, but pushed the harvest up as the crop dried more quickly in the field than normal.

In Southeast Missouri, 72 percent of the corn crop had been harvested at the time of the USDA report, compared to 62 percent last year, and only 14 percent of the crop was rated in "poor" or "very poor" condition.

Soybean crops have been much more affected, with 40 percent rated "poor" or "very poor" in Southeast Missouri. Nearly all of the area's pastureland was rated "poor" or "very poor."

Cotton has also been hit hard. University of Missouri Extension cotton specialist Michael Milam said he expects yields from nonirrigated fields -- about 35 percent of the Bootheel's cotton crop -- to be severely decreased by the drought.

Fields that might have produced 750 to 1,000 pounds of cotton per acre last year might only produce 250 pounds per acre this year, he said. The crop is about three weeks ahead of schedule due to the intense heat the area experienced earlier this summer, he said.

The Missouri branch of the USDA is currently assessing the drought conditions to determine if farmers can qualify for disaster assistance in the form of low-interest loans and crop assistance payments. Dan Engemann, an assistant to Missouri Department of Agriculture director Katie Smith, said that given past experiences he thinks the USDA will probably designate drought-afflicted areas as disaster areas, making that assistance available to local farmers.

The state has also taken steps to make hay shipments to Missouri livestock producers cheaper by waiving transportation permit fees on wide loads of hay through Dec. 31 and encouraging livestock farmers to take advantage of the Missouri Hay Directory for resources on where to get hay with the local shortage.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mary Lamm said the area's drought could persist through the fall and winter. However, Guinan said fall is a good time for water supplies to recharge, as average rainfall in the September through November period is similar to that in the June through August period, but less water is lost from evaporation and use by plants.

The Missouri Drought Assessment Committee is scheduled to meet from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sept. 21 in Jefferson City to discuss drought conditions. The committee is a group of 14 state and federal agencies that coordinates planning for, assessment of and mitigation of drought.


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