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Southeast Missouri farmers face challenges from heat, drought

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A combination of record-breaking heat and below-normal rainfall has Southeast Missouri in the throes of a devastating drought.

2012 has brought Cape Girardeau just half of its normal rainfall with 10.03 inches to date.

"We've just had a lot of high pressure riding over this part of the country, and that's caused very few fronts and very little rainfall to come through the area," said David Humphrey, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky.

In May, Cape Girardeau received 0.69 inches of rainfall, most of which fell May 20.

May temperatures were above normal nearly every day of the month except for May 9 to 12 and May 22 and 23, Humphrey said.

Temperatures soared above 90 degrees 10 days this month, breaking records Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Cape Girardeau, Scott, Bollinger, Butler and Stoddard counties are classified as being in a moderate drought, according to the USDA's Drought Monitor. Bootheel counties of Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot and Dunklin are classified as severe drought areas.

The hot, dry weather is creating additional costs for area farmers, whether they're raising livestock or row crops.

"There's just no pasture out there," said Dale Steffens, president of the Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau.

Several farmers Steffens has talked to reported they've had only half the usual hay crop this year. Many have already started putting out hay to make sure their animals have enough to eat.

"I don't know what this dry weather is going to do with the corn," Steffens said. "Some of it may be young enough yet it can snap back."

Most of Cape Girardeau County's fields aren't irrigated, but farther south into the Bootheel, irrigation systems are already being used heavily, said Anthony Ohmes, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.

"Pivots have been running since April when we usually don't start until May," Ohmes said. "Corn was planted timely this year, unfortunately we haven't had any significant rainfall since that time."

This spring was so dry that some wheat fields were irrigated four or five times, which Ohmes said is unheard of.

Rice farmers also had to "flush" their fields by soaking them with water before planting, which isn't a common practice, Ohmes said.

All this extra irrigation is adding to farmers' production costs and cutting into their potential profits.

"Every time that pivot goes around, that's just more dollars you have to manage," he said.

Irrigation systems typically costs $36 to $45 per inch of water per acre in fuel alone to operate, he said.

In areas that aren't irrigated, Ohmes described the plants as "twisted, gray and stunted."

"Every day it's like that it's losing yield," he said.

Thursday will bring the best chance of rain this week, Humphrey said.

"We're going to get a cool-down. We've got a front that's scooting through to give us a decent shot of rain, then we'll cool down into the 70s by Friday," he said.

It's only a short reprieve, however, with Humphrey expecting temperatures back into the 90s by this time next week.

Both Southeast Hospital and Saint Francis Medical Center report that despite the heat, they haven't seen any heat-related illnesses yet this summer.

"Young children, the elderly and people who spend a great deal of time outdoors, such as construction workers, are at highest risk for heatstroke," said Carla Crump, manager of emergency services at Saint Francis Medical Center.

Heatstroke occurs when a person's body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher and can lead to brain damage or death if it's not treated right away, Crump said. Symptoms include a lack of sweating, muscle cramps, headache, rapid breathing and a racing heart. Patients are treated by using cold compresses, misting cool water, ice packing and special cooling blankets.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, MO


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