The Maneater

Gov. Nixon, Department of Agriculture aid farmers with drought relief

Prolonged drought conditions led the governor to extend Missouri's state of emergency until Nov. 15.

Cait Campbell / Graphic Designer

Gov. Jay Nixon extended the state of emergency for Missouri for an additional 45 days, until Nov. 15, in response to the prolonged drought.

Nixon also extended the deadline for farmers to complete state-subsidized drought relief projects that were first established during his original state of emergency declaration on July 23.

"We will ensure that Missouri producers and farmers get the access to water they need so critically,” he said in a news release.

Under the extension, farmers who received emergency funding for water-related relief projects will have extra time to be able to complete their projects. More than 5,800 farmers were approved for funding. Of the 5,800 projects, approximately 1,400 have not yet been scheduled for construction.

Nixon first declared a state of emergency in reaction to prolonged heat, drought and fire risk in Missouri, according to the release. After his declaration, he allowed farmers to apply for funding for water relief projects involving drilling for or deepening wells or providing other types of irrigation for crops and livestock.

Bob Garino, acting director of the USDA National Agriculture Statistic Service, said mostly cattle farmers took advantage of the relief program.

“There was potential for irrigation, but the projects were mainly for livestock producers who had trouble getting water to cattle with ponds and wells drying up,” he said.

Farmers who applied for projects did so in a two-week window between July 23 and Aug. 6. A total of 11,000 farmers applied for funding.

Applications were evaluated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and local soil and water districts.

The cost-sharing program picked up 90 percent of the costs of a water relief project, leaving the farmer to cover the remaining 10 percent. An average livestock project received $4,800 in state funding, according to the release.

Funding for the program came from unallocated funds from the State Soil and Water Districts Commission and additional state funding, which Nixon was allowed to direct after declaring a state of emergency.

Drought conditions significantly reduced the crop yields of Missouri farmers this growing season.

“An average corn yield is 140 bushels per acre,” Garino said. “This year we’re forecasting 75 bushels per acre, or roughly half of what it could have been.”

Missouri has not been completely drought-free since June 2011, National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said. After periods of moderate and mild drought throughout 2011 and early 2012, the drought worsened this May.

“We had a couple of areas of abnormal dryness in May and then it just exploded," Fuchs said. "We just plummeted to (extreme) and (exceptional drought) everywhere."

Meteorologists predict that the drought could linger into winter.

“The winter forecast is not optimistic,” Fuchs said. “We could see a more average winter in a best-case scenario.”

Despite recent rain from Hurricane Isaac, the Columbia area is still classified as an area of extreme drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s drought monitor. Fuchs said it would be unlikely that occasional rain would be enough to reduce the drought.

“We’re still in a drought and face the potential of the drought worsening in fall and winter," he said. "Whatever momentum we got from Isaac would have to be sustained by near normal to above average rainfall through the fall."

Garino said if the drought continues, yields of crops planted in the fall could also be diminished.

“If there's dry conditions, that will definitely affect the wheat crop," he said. "If we don’t recharge some of the soil, we’ll have a problem with the wheat yields.”

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