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Extreme drought hits Boone County, could cause crop and livestock decline

Areas of Boone County are dealing with extreme drought for the first time since 2018. Nearly 10% of the county is experiencing extreme drought, while more than half has drought that is categorized as at least severe.

The U.S. Drought Monitor — a joint effort between the National Drought Mitigation Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — measures whether areas are in moderate, severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Extreme drought is characterized by major crop loss, high evaporation and high levels of nitrate in corn. Areas in western Boone County are facing the brunt of the drought, according to the monitor.

Matt Arthur and his parents produce flowers and row crops at Booneslick Heritage Farm in Rocheport. He said he’s worried about the effect the drought will have on crop production.

“We’re watching, and we’re expecting a significantly lower harvest than usual,” Arthur said. “It could be one of our worst harvests in 15 years.” Missouri’s unpredictable weather makes it difficult to mitigate the effects of an ongoing drought, Arthur added.

“We focus on soil health on the row crop farm on a multi-year timescale,” he said. “We try to use practices that conserve soil and improve soil health, but on a single-season timeline, there’s nothing you can do.”

The drought monitor also shows the entire county is facing a moderate drought. In moderate drought, topsoil is dry, corn yields are low, pastures aren’t growing and crops are stressed. Most of Boone County is also receiving half or less of its normal amount of precipitation.

Across the state, drought has impacted crop conditions and yields this year. According to a Sept. 26 report released by the USDA on Missouri Crop Progress and Condition, nearly 10% less corn has been harvested so far compared to the same time last year. Additionally, a larger percentage of pasture condition is considered “poor” and “very poor” this year than in 2021.

In July, Gov. Mike Parson signed an executive order declaring a drought alert for 53 counties, including Boone County. The alert is in effect until Dec. 1.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows almost the entire state is at least abnormally dry, a majority is in at least moderate levels of drought and over 12% is in extreme drought.

As farmers sell their livestock in response to drought conditions, there could be a decline in future meat supply, said Christi Miller, communications director for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

“A shrinking cow herd, without question, moving forward, would be one big impact on consumers,” she said.

Drought can also have less obvious impacts to local economies.

“If a number of producers sell their animals, they are no longer buying feed at the store in town, they’re no longer buying veterinary supplies, using their local veterinarian; it has that trickle-down effect,” Miller said.

Miller said farmers can institute practices such as pasture rotation to combat drought conditions. Pasture rotation involves periodically moving livestock to different segments of pasture to allow the freshly grazed areas to regrow.

“If you contain them to a smaller pasture and then rotate them around those pastures, your grass will, for the most part, last longer and go farther into the season,” she said.

While the department can point farmers in the direction of resources and education, Miller said it’s largely the federal USDA that can actually provide compensation to farmers who’ve lost money because of drought. In late August, the USDA designated 22 Missouri counties as eligible for emergency loans that can be used for recovering from drought. Boone County was not included.

Miller said the length of a drought can be unpredictable, though estimates of rainfall for the next month don’t paint an optimistic picture, especially for livestock farmers.

“It’s not just our grass right now; it’s our ponds,” she said. “Even if you can go buy supplemental feed for your livestock, it’s awfully difficult to bring water to them. Ponds are getting small, short in size, and creeks are drying up. And that’s a gigantic challenge for producers.”

Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that the last time the entire county was in at least moderate drought was 2018, and it took about five months for it to go away.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The written story has been updated with the most recent data. The audio aired before that data set was available and therefore there is a slight discrepancy.

Harshawn Ratanpal is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics. He is the current Print-Audio Convergence Editor, or PACE, for the Missouri News Network focusing on homelessness coverage.
The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.