Dry May puts heat on farmers, gardeners

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Southeast Missouri has enjoyed a spell of sunshine, but farmers and gardeners are in need of some stormy weather.

Cape Girardeau only got 3.06 inches of rain in May, down almost 2 inches from the normal 4.94 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky. More than two-thirds of this precipitation fell on May 15, and Cape Girardeau has not seen any rainfall since one-hundredth of an inch fell May 23.

May came after a slightly wetter than usual April, with 5.41 inches, and a dry March, with 3 inches.

Although the numbers may look dismal, especially to farmers, Gerald Bryan, regional agronomist with the University of Missouri extension in Jackson, said the area has seen much worse. Last fall, farmers faced a scorching drought that lasted from late August until early October.

"Right now, I wouldn't classify it as a drought, just a really long dry spell," Bryan said.

Even though the ground looks dry, Bryan said subsoil moisture can sustain crops for a while. However, Bryan said things could get worse if the weather continues to be dry for much longer.

"When you consider that May is a month that we usually get a lot of rainfall, the levels can be way below normal and still not hurt," Bryan said. "If we get into July and we're already dry, it could hurt considerably then."

Bryan said dry weather in late spring and early summer still can cause a lot of farming headaches. He said some farmers are planting soybeans, and if it gets too dry, some could have to replant later.

"There may be enough moisture to germinate them but maybe not enough moisture to sustain them," Bryan said.

Some seed companies have free seed replacement programs, but Bryan said farmers often have to pay a fee for the use of Roundup technology for insect resistance. Bryan said farmers also could lose money because planting later in the season can create lower yields.

Even if a farmer doesn't have to resow crops, some plants, such as corn, can become stunted if they don't get enough water early on. Bryan said corn yield is determined when the plants are only about 18 inches tall.

Farmers have few options to improve yields and prevent replanting besides irrigation.

"The ones that have irrigation will start irrigation," Bryan said. "The ones that do not can just pray or get mad at the weatherman for not following through on his predictions."

Evelyn McClintock, president of the Sunny Village Garden Club in Scott City, said the plants her organization cares for have not been hurt much.

She said some of the club's flowering plants, including their azaleas, were hurt more by the dry, cold winter than the dry spring.

The National Weather Service is reporting a 20 percent to 30 percent chance of rain every night this week through Sunday. Meteorologist Mary Lamm said a warm front could bring some precipitation over the weekend, and with the amount of humidity in the air, showers could pop up anytime at any place after that.

wmcferron@semissourian.com

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