I was in Columbia last week attending our extension Fall Conference and an Agricultural and Natural Resource (ANR) Conference. I really enjoyed visiting with co-workers from throughout the state. A good bit of the agricultural conference dealt with the drought and its consequences in Missouri.
First the good news, I just checked the rought Monitor on Thursday morning and see that the Bootheel area drought has been reduced from extreme drought to severe. Considering that we were in the highest category, exceptional, just a few months ago, this is quite an improvement.
Pat Guinan, our extension climatologist, showed several charts and explained our current situation. In spite of this year's drought things, could have been worse. It was also noted that this drought was unexpected. According to the maps, Southeast Missouri was considered abnormally dry in March but with the lower rainfall and higher temperatures conditions began to change rapidly. It didn't take long to reach the highest drought category. In Southeast Missouri, from January 1 through October 31 we had areas that had moisture deficits of 10 to 14 inches. So it will take a while to replenish this moisture. But conditions are improving.
Historically, this year in Missouri our precipitation average from January 1 through October 31 would rank us as the 11th driest period since 1901. While the precipitation levels in the early 1950's were not as bad as this year, there were multiple years with below average rainfall that resulted in even worse drought conditions. Prolong drought conditions with less irrigation had a far greater impact than what was experienced this year.
According to the Drought Monitor forecast, we are not expected to have above normal temperatures through January. We are not expected to have below normal rainfall during this time period either. The good news is that the Missouri Crop Progress and Condition Report for the week ending November 4 shows that the topsoil moisture supply is only 22 percent in the very short and short categories. We even have 68 percent of our soils considered adequate and 10 percent considered surplus.
During the ANR conference, Dr. Scott Brown, an agricultural economist with the Agricultural Markets and policy Division reported on the effects of the 2012 drought. This year there was more volatility in crop yields, crop and pasture condition, and water supplies. The Mid-western drought had a major impact on corn and soybean prices. There continues to be complaints about corn and soybeans being used for biofuels since this adds to the cost of gasoline or biodiesel. The worst news about the higher prices of these crops is the impact on the livestock feed industry. The drought has resulted in a decreased number of livestock and many producers could not afford the higher priced feed. The U.S. cattle industry inventory is at its lowest number since 1979. While the drought contributed to the lower numbers of livestock, U.S. meat per capita consumption is at its lowest level since 1991. In 2007, meat consumption took a nose dive due to higher meat prices and a concern over too much saturated fat. With lower livestock inventory, we can expect meat prices to increase again in 2013.
The good news is that Missouri farmers, who had crop insurance, generally fared pretty well. Linda Geist, Senor Information Specialist with the University of Missouri, had a news release entitled, "Crop insurance makes a difference for Missouri farmers."
She stated that "farmers covered by federal crop insurance may not only have had their losses covered and avoided financial devastation during this year's drought, but might have made more money than they had predicted in March, said a University of Missouri Extension economist.
"Insured farmers had a pretty good year," said Ray Massey earlier this month at the MU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Annual Conference at the MU Bradford Research Center. In 2012, approximately 70 percent of Missouri farm acres were revenue-protected by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), Massey said. Another 13 percent had insurance based on yield protection. "In a tough year like 2012, crop insurance is the difference between financial hardship and getting the crop into the ground next year," said FCIC manager William J. Murphy.
So what does our future moisture levels look like? We were cautioned to not get caught up in what may happen in the next few years. At the present time, the climatologists are not sure what will happen next year.
Dr. Tony Lupo, Chair of the MU Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric science is predicting a slightly warmer winter in Missouri with less snowfall. He mentions that this is due to the weak El Nino pattern in the central Pacific. This has followed a persistent El Nina pattern that was responsible for the lack of rainfall this year.
We do know that even with the improving drought conditions, we still face challenges with our winter wheat. With adequate rainfall, we can expect higher yields. If the moisture deficit continues the yield will be in jeopardy. If the moisture deficit continues, we can expect impact on our lawns and trees. Although most of our grasses and trees are dormant at this time of the year, when spring comes, we might see more injury from this past season's drought.
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Dr. Michael R. Milam is an agronomy specialist and county program director with University of Missouri Extension in Dunklin County.