by Eric Bohl

The Drought of 2018 is unfortunately only getting worse across Missouri, and the effects are starting to hit livestock producers hard. The July 12 weekly drought report by the United States Drought Monitor shows over two-thirds of Missouri in some level of drought condition. Unfortunately, with the extreme temperatures and high evaporation, ground is drying out much more quickly than some recent spurts of rain can replenish it.

The most severely-impacted areas continue to be north central and northwest Missouri, where part or all of 17 counties were classified as experiencing D3 “Extreme Drought” conditions. This is the second-highest classification on the drought intensity scale and represents the first time this summer any part of Missouri has hit this level. The southwestern corner of the state also has crept up into a higher classification, now experiencing D2 “Severe Drought” conditions, which also covers most of Missouri north of the river that is not in D3 condition.

Missouri Farm Bureau conducted a survey of livestock producers across the state, receiving responses from all corners of Missouri. MOFB Director of Marketing and Commodities Kelly Smith conducted the survey during the first and second weeks of July.  Some of the results are truly stunning.

In total, 98 percent of respondents said their first cutting of hay had reduced quality or quantity from normal, averaging 43 percent below normal production. In northwest Missouri, over 86 percent said they anticipate they will have to purchase hay to carry them through spring, but only 13 percent say hay will be available to purchase in their local area. On average, producers expect they will have to venture at least 110 miles to find suitable hay to meet their needs. What’s more, statewide the cost of hay has increased about 106 percent from normal levels, rising as high as 130 percent in northwest Missouri.

Perhaps the saddest news from the survey is that 72 percent of respondents anticipate having to reduce their cattle herd numbers due to the drought. Of those who said they will likely have to reduce their herds, over 60 percent said they would need to reduce their herd by at least 20 percent. This can set farmers back years as they try to rebuild in subsequent seasons. Many Missourians had just begun to recover from the effects of the 2012 drought, only to run into this summer’s dry wall.

Without a turnaround in rain patterns soon, many farmers will be forced to make very difficult choices in the coming weeks. Even before hay shortages become critical, many farmers could run out of water. If livestock do not have access to water on a daily basis, their health will be quickly endangered. Farmers are already reporting that ponds and wells are drying up. This can lead to cattle getting stuck in mud as they attempt to reach shrinking ponds, not to mention the health issues at risk.

The weather outlook is bleak for both livestock and crop farmers this summer. Missouri Farm Bureau will continue to stay in touch with all types of farmers as the situation progresses, and hopefully we will see a break in the heat and drought before much longer.

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