Missouri Gov. Mike Parson issued drought alerts in nearly half of Missouri counties Thursday, where exceptional heat and lack of rain threaten the state’s farmers and ranchers.
“Unfortunately, we don’t anticipate conditions improving soon,” Parson said in a news conference.
Fifty-three counties along or south of the Missouri River are affected by the alert. About three-quarters of the state is in at least a mild drought, and more than 30% is in a severe drought.
Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said some ranchers have been forced to cull their herds or start feeding them hay in areas where there’s no grass left. Normally ranchers let their cattle graze until the fall before switching them to hay. Parson, a cattle rancher, said it’s always a problem when ranchers have to start feeding hay in the summer.
“As a farmer myself, I know the heartache drought can bring, especially in the middle of July,” Parson said.
He said the problem won’t end right away when the state gets rain. Farmers and ranchers will continue to deal with fallout from the drought through the fall and winter.
Parson’s drought alert directs state agencies to examine how they can help affected communities and orders the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to encourage citizens to report conditions in their area.
Parson said natural resources and conservation officials are working to provide farmers access to water from state parks and conservation areas. They are also working to identify land where they may be able to bale hay. The Missouri Department of Transportation will waive regulations and fees for hay haulers.
Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill also included funds to address wildfires, drought and flooding.
Parson was joined by Chinn, Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Dru Buntin and Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley.
Chinn said the department doesn’t have a precise figure on how many farmers are being affected.
“Over half of our state is going to be covered in this drought…We’ve got 95,000 farms in the state of Missouri,” Chinn said. “So this is going to have a big impact on the agriculture community.”
Asked whether he expected worsening drought and flood patterns because of global climate change, Buntin didn’t answer directly.
“We had a significant drought in 2012; we had another significant drought in 2018,” Buntin said. “We have not been standing idle in response to those. We’ve been proactively planning about what things can we put into place that will make these impacts lessen in the future?”
Two years ago, the state agriculture department was asked by KSMU what it was doing to offset the impact of climate change on agriculture. The department said at the time that no one was working on climate change issues, which were “outside of the scope of issues and responsibilities our team members cover.”
Counties under drought alert are as follows: Barry, Barton, Boone, Butler, Camden, Carter, Cedar, Christian, Cole, Cooper, Crawford, Dade, Dallas, Dent, Douglas, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Howard, Howell, Iron, Jackson, Jasper, Johnson, Laclede, Lafayette, Lawrence, Maries, McDonald, Miller, Mississippi, Moniteau, New Madrid, Newton, Oregon, Ozark, Pemiscot, Pettis, Phelps, Polk, Pulaski, Reynolds, Ripley, Saline, Scott, Shannon, Stoddard, Stone, Taney, Texas, Wayne, Webster, and Wright.
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