Missouri Farmers Brace For Possibility Of Continued Drought

Drought-stricken corn is raising prices for feed and livestock. Farms throughout Missouri are getting out of livestock.
Missouri's corn crop, hit hard by drought in 2012, will suffer again in 2013 if dry conditions persist.

The drought that gripped the Midwest in 2012 has shown no signs of loosening its hold in 2013.

Although the visible signs are less abundant during wintertime, Missouri continues to deal with drought conditions. With planting for a variety of crops set to begin in late March and early April, many farmers are expecting poor yields in 2013.

As the U.S. Drought Monitor report released Feb. 5 shows, western Missouri and parts of central Missouri are currently being hit hardest, experiencing severe drought. Much of the rest of the state is in the midst of abnormally dry conditions or moderate drought.

During the last growing season, poor weather caused damage to many perennials. Looking at forecasts for the spring, fruit and vegetable producers aren’t sure they can even match last year’s production. “There will not be as much fruit this year as last year because our trees were so stressed,” said Ronda Thiessen, owner of Sandy Creek Farm in Franklin. “We don’t think that they have made very many fruit buds for the next season.”

“We irrigated as much as we could all last summer, with limited amounts of water, trying to help plants. … And the rain we’re getting today is sure nice!” Thiessen said Jan. 29 of the heavy rain falling in central Missouri.

Meat producers also suffer from weather uncertainty, which affects the price of corn and other feed. Last year was especially hard for corn growers. According to a report from the National Agricultural Statistic Service, the drought-reduced yield was 75 bushels per acre, the lowest since 51 bushels per acre in the drought year of 1983.

“I can see a corn price with a $4 in front of it, but over $8 is possible with another dry year. With current tight corn stocks, any weather change will affect feed prices,” University of Missouri dairy economist Scott Brown told the University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group.

Farmers are bracing themselves for volatility in feed costs. “Right now we haven’t yet seen any difference in farm uptake,” said Craig Rennick from Harmony Hill Goat Farm in Hallsville. “But we have seen a difference in feed price and other commodities that are purchased outside of the farm. We do pay feed bills, but the price is going up. I mean, we have a shift in prices on our feed depending on the supply and the demand of corn on the beef market.”

Mark Mahnken of Missouri Legacy Beef in Salisbury estimates increases in corn prices are costing smaller farmers about $100 dollars per cow.

“In the last several months, beef prices have come up about maybe 5 percent, 10 percent,” Mahnken said. “But they need to come up at least another 10 or 15 percent so that the farmer can be making a profit. Right now, the farmer’s losing about $100 a head feeding the cow, which is not good.”

Mahnken said that prolonged drought could have a lasting impact on the whole Missouri beef market, potentially forcing smaller players to go out of business.

“They will only keep losing money so long,” he said. “They can’t go on for a long time. Some of them will just quit and go out of business. And that’s kind of what’s happened over the last 10 years, it’s that the smaller farmer has gone out of business because he can’t compete with the big custom feed yards that feed hundreds of thousands heads of cows.”

Mahnken also said he expects a reduction in the number of baby livestock in the state this spring.

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