Missouri ag director visits Bollinger County to discuss drought

Friday, July 13, 2012
Lack of rain has left this cornfield in southern Scott County withered and dry. (ADAM VOGLER)

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- A disaster declaration requested this week by Gov. Jay Nixon is the first step toward helping Missouri farmers and ranchers survive this summer's drought.

Dr. Jon Hagler, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, spoke Thursday to farmers and business owners at the Bollinger County Chamber of Commerce in Marble Hill.

Livestock farmers like the cattle farmers in Bollinger County have had to sell their herds because pastures have dried up and only about half the normal hay crop has been harvested with little chance of a second harvest at the end of the summer.

Hagler said farmers can expect other emergency agriculture relief.

"Low-interest-rate emergency loans will be available at 2.5 percent interest instead of 3.5 percent," Hagler said. There will be a lower penalty on grazing CRP cropland -- 10 percent instead of a 25 percent penalty."

Conservation Resources Program land is land that has been set aside in a land bank. The government pays farmers not to use the land, but due to the current need for more pasture the Department of Agriculture would lower the penalty for using the reserved ground.

Jon Hagler

Gary Brewer, who raises about 30 head of cattle, said the CRP effort is a good initiative but wonders how many local cattle breeders would benefit from it.

"I don't think many of the farmers have land in CRP," Brewer said. "It will help, but it's going to be small."

Low-interest emergency loans will also help, Brewer said, but not much.

"What are you going to buy with it?" Brewer said. "The price of hay is already going sky-high. If you can find hay to buy, the price is twice the normal amount. I don't see how it's going to help that much. I don't see a lot of help, really."

The U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday based on data from Tuesday, shows that most of Missouri is in a severe drought; Southeast Missouri is considered in extreme drought. Conditions are not expected to change within the next few weeks, according to USDA predictions.

There is no pasture left to graze, and farmers are feeding their cows hay that they would normally have stored for winter feeding.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, as of July 8, about half of Missouri's pasture -- 48 percent -- is rated as very poor. None of the state's pasture land is considered excellent and only 1 percent is good. The best pasture land available in Missouri is rated fair and only 12 percent of the land qualifies at that designation.

Row crop farmers aren't faring much better than their livestock-raising counterparts.

In Missouri, the USDA's latest crop progress report, released Monday, 28 percent of corn was rated very poor, 32 percent poor and 28 percent fair. Much of the soybean crop was also rated as poor or very poor. Topsoil moisture was low in most areas of the state, too, the report said. In hard-hit Bollinger County, less than a quarter-inch of rain fell last week to help make up for the problem, according to the report. In Cape Girardeau County, 1.26 inches of rain fell, according to the report.

Even that rain is far too little to make up for the moisture deficit.

Some counties, such as row-crop heavy Scott County, didn't receive any rain during the week. Over the past four weeks, less than an inch of rain has fallen there, according to the report.

Other help farmers can hope for will come from the farm bill currently before Congress. Hagler aid that he and other state agriculture directors have been lobbying for some of the last farm bill's provisions to be made retroactive in the pending bill. Otherwise some benefits would expire at the end of the fiscal year.

Despite the dismal prospects for this year, Hagler said Missouri ranks at the top of states that feed America.

"The Missouri economy has done better than other economies," he said. "Agriculture has taken the lead throughout the recession. Agriculture is vital to everyday income."

Missouri ranks first in farms, second in cow count, third in horses, fourth and fifth in rice production and in the top 10 for soybeans, corn, hogs and chickens.

"No place in the world produces as much food as we produce," Hagler said.

A changing society, however, needs to be made more aware of where their food comes from, and it is up to agriculture producers to connect more to an urban audience. Hagler said when his grandfather was growing up, everyone he knew was a farmer. Today, only 1.5 percent of Americans live on a farm. Most children, even in rural counties, think milk comes from the grocery store, even though they see cows near home.

One way to make more of a connection, he said, is through farmers markets.

"Everybody has a stake in agriculture," Hagler said. "It's up to you to become agriculture evangelists. If you invest in the American farmer he invests right back at you. It's what drives the economy. You have to be able to feed yourself to defend yourself."

Pertinent address:

Marble Hill, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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