OSAGE BEACH, MO. — With more than 80% of Missouri in a drought, the governor is extending the executive order declaring a drought alert for portions of the state.
Gov. Mike Parson said he’s hoping for large snowfalls in the northern states to help with navigation on the rivers. With no end in sight, farmers said they are prepared for it to take them at least two to three years to bounce back from this drought.
“Planting the crop was great,” central Missouri farmer Brian Lehman said. “Conditions were good, and we had a great stand. Then June came and it went down from there.”
The dry conditions continue to take a toll on one of Missouri’s largest industries. During the annual Governor’s Conference on Agriculture at the Lake of the Ozarks on Thursday, Parson told a packed room he plans to renew his executive order.
“It ain’t been so bright this year when you’re out there in the hay field in June and July,” Parson said. “I would say that unfortunately, it is going to be signed again. I don’t say unfortunately because I don’t want to sign it; it’s unfortunate because I have to sign it because we still have a drought and we still have issues we have to deal with.”
Less than 24 hours later, the governor extended the drought alert through May 1, 2024. The executive order activates the Drought Assessment Committee, a group made up of state and federal agencies. Parson initially signed the drought alert on May 31, 2023.
“It’s dry,” Lehman said. “I planted some cover crops three weeks ago, and they’re still not coming up.”
Lehman said he was forced to send cattle to market early due to a lack of feed and ponds drying up.
“Depend on what this winter looks like, if it’s a harsh winter, it takes more feed, the grass doesn’t respond and then if the spring is quick, it could be a two- to three-year comeback as far as the cattle side of production,” Lehman said.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed parts of west central and northeast Missouri in an extreme drought, with most of central Missouri in a severe drought.
During last month’s Drought Assessment Committee meeting, the National Weather Service said it’s been nearly a century since Missouri has seen anything like this. Mark Fuchs with NWS told the group in October that some parts of the state have been in a continuous drought for nearly two years.
“It’s dust everywhere,” Lehman said. “I’m trying to remember the last time we had significant rain. You know, all harvest long, we never had a rain delay to speak of. We just kept going.”
The impact of the drought is being felt far beyond the agriculture industry.
“We’ll see what happens up in the northern parts of the state to bring it down in the rivers,” Parson said. “We’ve got to get those rivers up.”
“It goes down to your small towns and things like that because farmers aren’t spending the money buying equipment because it’s a tougher time,” Lehman said. “It trickles down to local economics as well.”
The Drought Assessment Committee plans to meet again on Dec. 18 in Jefferson City.
The Department of Agriculture does offer a mental health resource for the farming community. The AgriStress hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Producers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak to a healthcare professional.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking Missouri residents to submit information about the local drought conditions online. DNR Director Buntin said this can help the committee create more accurate maps, allowing members to work better with state and federal partners.
DNR also has a variety of resources online and continues to add information on drought mitigation and assistance opportunities.