Area farmers say lack of rainfall 'burning up' crops

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

Southeast Missouri farmers have had a tumultuous relationship with the rain this year.

They collectively cursed it as it fell this spring, when it rained so much that it flooded in places and pushed back the start of planting season by weeks.

Now, farmers find themselves begging the rain to return after its virtual two-month summer vacation has created near-drought conditions, leaving crops scorched.

"It's been feast or famine," said Gerald Bryan, an agronomist with the University of Missouri Extension office in Jackson, Mo. "The combination of excess rain throughout the middle of June, now coupled with the dry weather, is actually affecting farmers in most of the area very drastically."

In April and May, almost 20 inches of rain fell. But since then, there's been a total of less than 3 inches. For August, there has been no official rain, though there have been spotty showers.

That has the word "drought" cropping up.

"It hasn't officially been classified as a drought," Bryan said. "But it should be, and it will be soon."

There's no specific criteria for calling a dry spell a drought, Bryan said. But he said a citizens advisory committee made up of area farmers and others determine that based on amount of waterfall and damage to crops and weather forecasts.

Farmers in the area say they believe it's a drought already.

"This is very, very serious," said John Lorberg, of Gordonville, Mo., who farms 900 acres of soybean and corn. "There is going to be some corn that is not going to amount to anything. Zero. That's going to hurt a lot of people."

Lorberg has been irrigating out of ponds and using high-pressure sprinkler systems, but he said that hasn't offset the damage much.

"It is just cooking," he said. "It's just drying up. Leaves are curling up and it's not doing anything. It's about as serious as I've ever seen it."

It's also affecting other types of farms, like Siemers Dairy Farm in Cape Girardeau. At dairy farms, they have to grow crops to feed cows.

"Nothing's growing," said Phillip Wichern, a worker at the farm. "There's not near enough rain."

They've been turning misters and fans on the cows for the hot hours, and Wichern said the heat has hurt milk production.

"The heat causes them to produce less milk," Wichern said. "It's rough on them. When they're not comfortable, they don't produce as much."

A cow died Sunday night; Wichern said it probably was heat related.

Gary Branum has 2,400 acres of rice and 400 acres of corn on his farm in New Madrid, Mo. He irrigates his crops 100 percent, and it's costing him a pretty penny to pump additional water.

"Still," he said, "I've got neighbors that are just burning up. They won't have a crop. It's sad. They're spending tons of money, and it's going to be a bad crop. It's funny that good crops are less expensive than bad crops."

Prices already affected

The damaged crops have already affected prices, said Charles Kruse, executive director of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

"Markets will reflect that," Kruse said. "There are already higher soybean and corn prices. That'll happen when you get some burnt up crops. It's going to hit us in several directions."

Any respite from the skies may be sporadic and brief throughout August. There have been the occasional outburst of rain -- such as in spots on Monday -- but they look to be spotty and not nearly enough to undo the damage of the dry summer.

"The spigot was shut off after May, and we don't know when it's going to be turned back on," said Chris Nowels, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., which monitors Cape Girardeau.

Nowels said there was a chance of rain for today, but he said he didn't expect it to be much. He said to look for showers or thunderstorms on Sunday.

"But none of these are going to be a washout or anything," he said.

Branum said he's trying to keep his head up.

"We've seen these times before," he said. "These are times when we just to use that old gift that the good Lord gave us and never give up. We may have to change our plans a bit, but we have to just hang in there."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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