Well Drillers Get Short-term Boost from Drought Relief Program

Jerry Bader said his business, Southwest Missouri Drilling LLC in Greene County, is busier than ever, thanks to an unusually generous farm subsidy program that is causing wells to be drilled in Missouri at the fastest pace since 2007.

“The government is paying 90 percent for the well drilling for farmers,” Bader, who’s been a well driller for 30 years, said. “I don’t think that will ever happen again.”

Bader has been working with farmers taking advantage of the State of Emergency drought relief program, in which government and farmers share the cost of providing water to livestock and crops during one of the state’s worst droughts in history. The projects in the program include drilling new wells, deepening existing wells and improving wells.

Bader isn’t the only driller having a boom year. Because of the relief program, the number of wells drilled or improved will more than double this year compared with 2011, according to figures from the Department of Natural Resources. Last year, 5,128 well projects were completed.

As of Monday, 5,800 projects out of more than 11,000 applications had been approved, and 4,800 projects have been completed, are under construction or have been scheduled for construction, DNR spokeswoman Renee Bungart said. The state has extended the program 45 days to Nov. 15 because of its popularity. The goverment’s cost-share programs in the past usually covered 50 to 75 percent of the cost.

Since the establishment of the program July 23, Bader has accepted 130 projects from farmers in the 100-mile-radius area of Springfield and workers have finished 60 projects in two months. In one of the good years — back in 2005 — Bader and his colleagues drilled about 150 wells the whole year.

“Without the subsidies from the government, most of them (farmers) won’t do it because they don’t have the money,” Bader said. He estimated 75 percent of the farmers would not have their wells drilled if they were not approved in this drought relief program.

Patti Howard, the secretary for Hewitt-Messenger Well Drilling in Nixa, Mo., is in charge of making drilling appointments in her company. She said all the 11 staff members have been extremely busy recently.

“This August and September are the busiest months I’ve ever seen,” Howard said. She has been working at Hewitt-Messenger for six years. She said this booming business mostly resulted from the drought relief project, but some of the customers also used money out of their own pockets because their projects weren’t approved.

“They have to do it anyway,” Howard said. “The drought hit them badly.”

Even though some drillers in Missouri have been busier in the past few months, some are worried about the current situation.

Doc McClanahan, the owner of Doc’s Well & Pump Service, said even with the drought relief program he still feels this is one of the slow years.

“It’s never as good as a few years ago,” McClanahan said.

Bader said even though he got a spike in business, this is just a short-term thing. “Once the program is over, we’ll just go back to reality,” Bader said.

The reality for Bader wasn’t looking good for the past few years since the economy went down, with only 50 to 60 wells drilled a year in the past two years. He said in his best time he would drill 200 wells a year.

“The economy decides everything,” Bader said. “Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to turn around in a short time.”

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