Drier than normal conditions have negatively impacted area farmers, with one even saying that if it doesn’t rain soon, this year is on pace to be the worst drought he’s ever seen.
Almost the entire state of Missouri is either abnormally dry or in some form of a drought, ranging from moderate to severe, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The monitor data is released by the National Climatic Data Center and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A small area in western Missouri has not been affected.
Franklin County sits in an area of moderate to severe drought, with the only rainfall so far this month at less than 1.5 inches in Downtown Washington. In May, only 2.39 inches fell in Downtown Washington.
“If we think back to last year, we had a pretty significant drought and pretty high temperatures. Last fall was relatively dry,” said Matt Herring, agronomy and natural resources specialist with the University of Missouri Extension office. “So we really started the year out with a deficit. This is the second year in a row with drought conditions and subsoil moisture is relatively low.”
Farmers said they expect conditions to be drier through July and August, but the lack of rain so early in the season is making a big impact, especially on the corn crop.
“The corn crops are really struggling,” said Sean Geisert, who grows corn, soybeans and hay in farms from Washington to Labadie. “This is an important time of crop maturity. If we don’t get rain in the next week or two, we can expect half of the normal crop.”
His hay crop was about 60 percent of normal, he said.
Rich Deppe, who farms in Washington, New Haven, Berger and Ethla bottoms, said his corn also is in some trouble.
Neither Deppe or Geisert have irrigation for their crops. Herring said very few farmers in Franklin County have any form of irrigation.
“We’re barely hanging on,” Deppe said. “The drought has lowered our crop production by 25 to 30 percent already.”
Corn is vulnerable because it’s in its tasseling, or reproductive stage, Deppe explained. During this time it needs the most rain and cool weather, or under about 90 degrees.
Unlike soybeans, which flower several times throughout the growing season, corn only has one shot.
“Corn only has one chance and that’s now,” Deppe said. “That’s why we’re all outside doing a rain dance.”
In addition to a smaller yield, corn kernels also are smaller, which has a domino effect on Deppe’s crops and farm.
Deppe Farms sells about 22,000 pigs per year and at any given time has about 12-13,000 on the farm to feed.
With smaller corn crops, he has to turn to purchasing corn from outside sources.
The hogs eat about 240,000 bushels per year. One bushel is about 56 pounds and costs about $6.50. If other crops are affected, Deppe said it could reach more than $7 per bushel.
MFA, Washington, is paying $6.10 per bushel and selling a bushel at $6.30, according to Suzanne Barrett, assistant secretary.
The prices run off the Chicago Board of Trade and change daily and all day long, Barrett noted. The prices above were at closing, at 3:30 p.m., Thursday, June 21.
Deppe said he’s already spent money to put the seeds in the ground, spray and fertilize. Now, if the outlying area has been affected like him, he may have to travel as far as Illinois or Iowa to get more corn for feed.
With soaring gas prices, that prospect didn’t seem favorable to Deppe, though he’s already begun buying leftover corn from area farmers to help supplement his own corn for hogs.
Herring said farmers with forages also may be in trouble.
“With forages, the drought is quite evident, because they’re cool-season plants and it’s gotten warm quite quickly,” he said.
Some farmers with forages may have to sell some cows or wean calves early so they don’t need as much forage. Some may supplement by feeding their cattle hay.
Farmers agreed that soybeans were OK for now.
“They have a longer window to receive moisture and make a crop,” Geisert said. “We had some emergence issues, but with the rain in the past two weeks they’ve popped out of the ground and are doing all right.”
Additionally, soil conditions at the farms make a big difference. Deppe said he can see a big difference even in his own farms, with his Berger farm having sandier, drier soil and needing more water.
Deppe and Geisert agreed that they are “at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
Deppe said this is the earliest he’s seen it this dry.
“What scares most of the farmers is that we’re really getting into the driest time of the year. If it stays this dry through July and August, our corn production will be cut in half, maybe more,” Deppe said. “It’s kind of scary.”
Geisert said that last year, the challenge was getting the plants in the ground in a timely manner, because it was so wet. This year, he said, they were put in the ground at a good time, but rainfall has been poor which has affected the development of the crops.
Last year, Deppe added, corn had already pollinated before the drought.
“This has the possibility of being, by far, the worst drought that I’ve ever seen,” Deppe said.
He added that his dad talks about a time in the ’50s where there was hot wind and high temperatures and a significant drought. Genetics in corn, though, have improved making corn more drought tolerant.
Deppe said farmers have been lucky that temperatures haven’t been over 100 degrees. “If we had a week of 100-degree temperatures, it would probably scorch the corn.”
Homeowners will notice the drought in their lawns and gardens in terms of plant growth. Herring said the only thing that could help is rain.
“If we got 2 to 4 inches of rain in the next week or two, the drought would be on the back burner,” he said. “Things would green up and start growing again.”
Herring said a drought begins slowly, but can be gotten out of quickly.
“But we’ve got a ways to go to get back on track,” he said.
Fortunately for grape farmers, grapes are “resilient” plants, according to Mark Blumenberg, president of Blumenhoff Winery, Marthasville.
“I think the only real effect has been on the young plants we planted last year and this year. Once they get established they’re pretty resilient,” he said, adding that the young plants had to be watered.
The winery doesn’t have irrigation, so they haul a tank around and water about once each week.
Blumenberg said this is the driest spring he can remember, but because the grapes are in a lot of soil, in excess of eight feet in some areas, there is a big reservoir of moisture available for the vines.
This year, Blumenberg said he expects smaller berries, but its too early to say whether that will be a reality.
“The drought might marginally affect the size of the crop, maybe 10 to 20 percent,” he said. “The benefit, traditionally, is that smaller berries yield more flavorful juice.”
Blumenberg said there were similar conditions in 2007, but the winery had flavorful wines with the small crop.
“I think it will be a good vintage,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be a very large vintage, but it will be a good vintage.”
Rather than drought, a spring frost earlier this year hurt the vineyards more.
“The grapes like hot, dry weather. They’re disposed to liking it because they’re prone to fungal diseases promoted by more humid rainy conditions than we’ve had this year,” Blumenberg said. “We have very disease-free vines this year.”