The grass was short, the ponds were dry and cattle prices were low as northwest Missouri farmers scrambled for resources during the 2018 drought.
Farmers entered the year behind on rainfall after a dry spring. The region also faced low forage growth and had very little water accumulation in ponds. Scott Roy, Grundy County Missouri Department of Conservation private land conservationist and cattle owner said that these two aspects were critical for local producers raising livestock and forage. They were the most prominent and lasting effects on local producers.
“The drought was pretty localized as opposed to 2012, which was so widespread,” Roy said. “Where it was localized and really heavy it just seemed like it was a lot more impactful than other years.”
Tim Baker, MU Extension professional field specialist in horticulture for north Missouri, spent a lot of his time documenting the drought this year. Baker said he serves as the cooperative observer for the National Weather Service for Gallatin, Missouri. He takes precipitation and temperature measurements daily.
“Farmers were affected by the drought in many ways. ”
Even though Roy manages his land using a rotational grazing system to conserve pasture grass, by mid-summer he said his forage supply was essentially burned up.
“I actually had to start feeding hay in the middle of August which I’ve never, ever had to do,”
Roy typically has enough grass to graze his cattle up until the middle of December, but this is different for producer’s dependent on management practices.
“A lot of guys were starting to feed hay the first part of July and even selling cows,” Roy said. “Many guys that I know had to sell cows, and nobody around here had grass to take them to so that affected the price. The cattle prices were so cheap people were definitely hurt by having to unload some cows.”
Jasper Hanson, a young Grundy County livestock producer who also owns his own hay and straw production business, said he witnessed low major differences in his forage yields.
“Straw yielded about half of what it would normally produce due to short oats, and grass hay was about 50 to70 percent of normal production,” Hanson said. “To help with profits lost with the alfalfa and straw shortage, I did a lot more custom baling than I normally would do.”
Both Hanson and Roy ran out of forage for the cattle earlier than in a typical year. Roy said that they began feeding hay early around July 30.
As the drought continued, the amount of water in farmer’s ponds started to drop. Roy said that some of his ponds became so low he was not able to pump water from them to fill his livestock tanks.
“I had two ponds go almost completely dry, and even the spring fed pond behind the house — which I’ve never ever seen down in the 16 to 17 years we’ve lived here — was about 4-foot low,” Roy said.
This was not uncommon for other farmers across the region. Hanson was also affected by the lack of water supply. At the time, the Hanson’s had cattle running on three different farms. Many of their ponds were low, but they were forced to start hauling water when one of their ponds went completely dry. The lack of water became so severe that they tried fixing an old deep well that they owned. The water table was so low it would only pump about one tenth of a gallon per minute. The Hanson’s ended up resorting to rural water and paying a much higher cost.
As the drought appeared to worsen, Gov. Mike Parsonublicly release drought assistance programs for farmers in need that have never been implemented before. One of the first time programs allows farmers to use water from lakes and ponds owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Department of Natural Resources. In this program, farmers have the ability to pump up to 5,000 gallons of water daily, per family farm. The water comes from state parks and conservation area lakes as a form of drought relief for farmers to use on their operations.
The hay lottery, another first-time program, offers almost 1,000 acres of state park land free of charge for farmers to harvest and use for livestock feed. This program was created in an effort to help farmers in need to obtain an adequate supply of hay for the winter months to come. After they are chosen from the lottery, farmers will be issued a permit to harvest the hay in the given boundaries on the Department of Natural Resources land.
Aside from new release made public by the governor this year, the severity of the drought led to a release of ground that farmers would typically not be able to use for hay production kept within the Conservation Reserve Program. This situation was deemed emergency haying and grazing, allowing landowners to access this land for livestock purposes.
“Thankfully they released the CRP for haying and grazing, ” Roy said. “That helped a lot of producers out. We baled all the CRP that we could when it was released, including the neighbor’s land.”
In a news release, Baker said, “As of the Nov. 6 Drought Monitor, only a tiny spot of D1 drought remains in the southern parts of Clay and Platte Counties. There are, however, several areas of our state still considered abnormally dry, including parts of north Missouri.”
As producers took full advantage of drought assistance programs and participation spread across north Missouri, producers are more comfortable as we enter the coming winter. However, Baker said to keep in mind that winter is typically a dire time for farmers.