Firefighters and farmers worrying about lack of rain

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

While the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne continue drenching parts of the Eastern Seaboard, Southeast Missouri remains dry. No rain is predicted until Friday, when only a 20 percent chance of showers is possible. The odds for rain increase this coming weekend, but it's still only a 30 percent chance.

"If we don't get some rain soon we're going to have a problem," said Cape Girardeau fire chief Rick Ennis.

Dry weather has not increased fire hazards in the city just yet, Ennis said, but that could come later when the leaves begin to fall.

"People will start burning leaves and get carried away with that," Ennis said.

In Sikeston, Mo., however, the Department of Public Safety has asked residents not to burn any brush or grass because of the drought and the wind.

The dry conditions have already contributed to some fires. Monday afternoon, the inside of a shiny motorcycle fender focused sunlight and started a fire that damaged a machine shed on Highway 25 near Arbor.

That wouldn't have happened had there been more rain, said John Sachen of the Delta Fire Protection District.

"You can almost go out there and snap your fingers and have some smoke," he said.

So far in August and September, it has rained 6.17 inches. Only 0.02 of that is September's measurable rainfall.

Last year at this time, the area had 16.52 inches of rain over the two months -- 7.05 in August and 9.47 in September.

Farmers know the dry conditions allowed them to harvest their crops, but some farmers have crops in the field that may not mature because of it.

Gerald Bryan, an agronomist at the University of Missouri Extension Service in Jackson, said the farmers who planted a second crop of soybeans after harvesting their early wheat may not see as a great a yield as they might have.

Dairy and beef farmers may take a loss with their pastures. Acreage that has been planted with fescue, orchard grass or clover for livestock to graze on may not see as large a yield as in previous years.

"Some farmers will apply fertilizer to their pastures the first part of September or last of August," Bryan said. "The dry weather will nullify the effects of the fertilizer and reduce the available forage into fall and winter. That increases the hay needs and raises the price of overwintering the cow herd."

If farmers have to replant their pastures, he said, then the fertilizer will be lost.

Bryan said a few field fires have broken out, but the risk hasn't reached the danger level yet. As crops are harvested and the stalks and straw are left to dry, the heat and lower humidity will increase the possibility of fire. All it takes to start a fire, he said, is a spark from a catalytic converter on a pickup truck, a motor backfiring or a bearing going out on some farm equipment.

Future crops could also be affected unless it rains soon.

"We're approaching wheat planting season," Bryan said. "With this dry weather, it's going to be difficult to get the wheat up. We need a couple of inches of rain, and then we need it to wait a few days and rain a little bit more."

Earlier this summer, the region saw cool temperatures and frequent showers. It's dry now because the subsoil in the area doesn't retain water easily, Bryan said. The soil will hold on average about 2 inches of water per square foot.

"Get a corn crop growing or a bean crop, you're going to use that 2 inches up in a week or 10 days," Bryan said.

335-6611, extension 160

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