Drought conditions worsen in Southeast Missouri

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Crops and lawns across Southeast Missouri are particularly thirsty in the wake of an unusually dry spring, with no relief coming in the near future, according to National Weather Service forecasts.

Many areas across the country are in a drought after a dry spring, and much of Southeast Missouri's prime farming area is experiencing severe drought conditions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Drought Mitigation Center, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce release a national drought map weekly. According to the June 12 map, Cape Girardeau, Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Stoddard, Butler and nearly all of Bollinger and Wayne counties are all in a severe drought. Moderate to severe droughts are occurring in Perry, Pemiscot and Madison counties.

The next round of information for updating the drought map is due today, and local areas are unlikely to see much, if any, improvements when the map is released Thursday. Forecasts had called for a slight chance of showers last weekend, but Southeast Missouri stayed dry. In recent weeks, rains have been isolated and unable to make up the moisture deficit in the soil.

Steve Morrison, executive director of the Stoddard County Farm Services Administration, said farmers find themselves in two different categories pertinent to droughts: those able to irrigate their crops and those who aren't able to. Rice farmers, as well as most cotton and corn farmers, fall into the former.

"Rice, cotton and corn farmers will be able to produce a crop, but production costs will be substantially higher because of the much higher need to irrigate," he said.

Lawns and gardens are also suffering from the drought, and their owners are using more water to compensate from the lack of precipitation.

Alliance Water Resources manager Kevin Priester said water usage has increased recently. Alliance Water Resources provides water to the city of Cape Girardeau. Priester said the current usage, at about 8 million gallons per day, is above the annual average of 6 million gallons per day.

Priester said much of the increase is due to increased watering and that usage does tend to increase during periods of high heat and decreased rainfall.

Farmers unable to irrigate, such as many soybean farmers, are in a more dire situation than their counterparts who can provide water for their crops. Though they would rather plant earlier, Morrison said, soybean farmers are able to plant their crop as late as early July and still produce a crop, allowing them to wait and see if more rain falls.

"Soybean farmers still have a window of opportunity, though it's closing," Morrison said.

There is no substantial relief in the foreseeable future, though.

"There is a small chance of rain at the end of the week. Emphasis on small," National Weather Service hydrologist Mary Lamm said. If rain does fall, Lamm said showers would be isolated with rainfall at only a couple tenths of an inch.

"In Paducah, we currently have 11.59 inches of rainfall. Twenty-three inches is the norm for this point in the year," Lamm said. "The Cape Girardeau area should be very similar."

Lamm said the drought is not substantially worse than past years in rainfall totals, but the real effect comes from a combination of the high temperatures and that the drought is occurring during a key period of the year for agriculture.

"In 2010, we had a drought that was actually slightly worse by rainfall numbers, but it occurred during late fall and early winter. It had substantially less effect on crops than this drought is having."



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