Drought impacting farmers and ranchers at home and abroad

Associated Press

As summer comes to an end, farmers around the world are desperate for rain, with many having lost crops and livestock to dry conditions.

In this Aug. 10, 2018 photo provided by the University of Missouri Extension, a steer takes shelter under a bush near a dry pond on a farm near Monett, Mo. Drought conditions across most of Missouri are causing concerns for farmers.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says states experiencing the most significant droughts include Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Oregon and Utah.

Parts of Missouri—the only Midwestern state with severe drought conditions--are so dry that corn crops are suffering and hay for cattle is in short supply, with water becoming increasingly scarce, experts say.

Missouri has had below-average rainfall since winter. The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that nearly all of Missouri is experiencing drought, with several counties in the northwestern part of the state facing "exceptional" conditions — the most dire classification assigned by the monitor. Conditions were nearly as bad elsewhere along the northern tier and in southwestern Missouri.

This week, Gov. Mike Parson announced relief program that will give farmers access to water at 28 conservation areas and five state parks, and is opening a lottery that will allow 16 farmers to hay on nearly 900 acres of Missouri State Parks land.

Parson, a rancher, said he fed his cattle hay this month for the first time in his life because of dry conditions.

"Anytime you're feeding hay in the state of Missouri in August, I guarantee that is not a good sign for any farmers in this state," Parson told reporters gathered in his Capitol office.

Brink of financial ruin

Mark Fuchs, hydrologist for the National Weather Service office near St. Louis said the isolated nature of the drought in Missouri really hurts some corn growers because they're competing against other farmers in the Midwest that have had bumper crops.

"That puts a lot of them on the brink of financial ruin," Fuchs said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists soil moisture as "short" or "very short" in four-fifths of the state. As for Missouri's corn crop, nearly half of it was listed as poor or very poor, according to the most recent USDA progress report. Only about a quarter was listed as good or excellent.

The drought has also hurt pastures, with about three-quarters in poor or very poor conditions, according to the USDA report. Many pastures haven't been able to support grazing cattle, prompting farmers to feed cattle with hay that might normally be saved for winter. It's also hurt the hay crop, which is down about one-third from normal.

"It has been a very bad summer following a very bad winter as far as the feed supply," said Eldon Cole, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist out of Mt. Vernon. "The winter was so long last year they had to feed hay until April. That caused them to run out of hay, and then we didn't have a good growing season."

The southwestern U.S. is also experiencing drought. New Mexico's governor issued a drought declaration in July, groundwater levels have dropped across much of Arizona as crops are being irrigated, the price of hay doubled in southwest Colorado as fires burned in other parts of the state, and several Utah counties have drought declarations in place after having the warmest and least snowy winter since the 1800s.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer declared a drought emergency in March, and Kansas Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Heather Lansdowne said that triggered a suspension of motor carrier rules and regulations to ease the path for farmers to transport hay. Kansas farmers also can access water from some state fishing lakes and federal reservoirs, and Lansdowne said some federally protected acreage is open to haying and grazing.

A growing number of Texas ranchers and farmers are trimming their livestock, or selling them altogether, as the persistent drought has eliminated water supplies and forage for the animals.

Some landowners describe a boom-and-bust cycle playing out with increasing frequency as one drought follows another: a rancher builds up his livestock but then must sell much of it as drought conditions drive up costs, only to then spend years building up the herd again as the drought subsides.

"Don't even try"

Forty-five percent of Texas is in a drought stage categorized as severe, extreme or exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and ranchers and others describe land bare of grass, bales of hay either too expensive or hard to come by, and stock tanks that have long run dry.

"If you don't have the fire in your belly to produce food then don't even try," said Sam Snyder, a 65-year-old lifelong rancher who owns about 5,000 acres and leases another 10,000 near Abilene, about 120 miles west of Fort Worth.

It's been two years since his ranch saw enough rainfall to produce any runoff, Snyder said, and he'll spend $50,000 this year — about double the price from prior years — on range cubes, which are a high-protein mix of corn, milo and other ingredients. He'll also pay thousands on hay and other supplemental feed.

A climate prediction report issued by the National Weather Service says Oregon will remain hot, dry and smoky well into autumn this year.

The Statesman Journal reports Friday that forecast in the report released this week means that the state's existing drought could get worse.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says that most 70 percent of Oregon is now in "severe drought" and some southern parts of the state are in "extreme drought."

The historically dry conditions mean the eight large wildfires currently burning across Oregon could continue spewing smoke into October — and new fires could still ignite.

Market impact

According to Alex Breitinger, commodity futures broker, other countries around the world are experiencing the devastating effects of a drought as well.

Australia is suffering from its worst drought in memory, which has devastated that country's beef and wheat production, as well as the European wheat crop, Breitinger wrote in his weekly column.

“Longer term, shifting weather patterns could force producers to adapt, a process that could result in volatile commodity price,” he said. “An extreme example is the wheat market, which saw a massive swing in the last 10 weeks from $5.75 per bushel down under $4.50, only to rally back to $6.00 recently.”

Alex Breitinger of Breitinger & Sons LLC, a commodity futures brokerage firm and Colleen Kottke of the Wisconsin State Farmer contributed to this report.