Drought hits livestock farmers hard
Aurora AdvertiserStaff reports
Monday, July 30, 2012
Aurora, Mo. —
Across the area, ponds are drying out and availability of grass is diminishing. Farmers are being forced to set out hay to feed their livestock, but hay supplies are limited and prices are skyrocketing.
“We do not want to decrease our herd but as the cost of feed and water continues to rise, we will have to consider different options to meet our operation’s future needs,” Glenda Kleeman said during a visit from State Treasurer Clint Zweifel last week. “We tried to prepare for a situation like this as best we could, but no one could have predicted the drought would be this severe. I am glad Treasurer Zweifel and other government entities are working with farmers and ranchers to help see us all through this difficult situation.”
Missouri’s dairy herds are being hit hard with the continuing drought. Larry Purdom, dairy farmer in Purdy and Missouri Dairy Association president, said up to a third of the dairy cow numbers could be lost.
“It’s been a double whammy on top of slumping farm prices. The weather has scorched our pastures and crops so feed is running out for many dairy farmers. We are searching high and low for hay and feed that just isn’t there.
“Some are just giving up. Yesterday, I saw three herds sell out at the Springfield livestock auction and two more herds were ready to go,” Purdom said.
He said those herds being sold were sold as milking cows but as beef cows.
“This means less home-grown milk for Missouri which is already a milk deficit state,” Purdom said. “Our dairy farmers produce only about half of what Missouri’s consumers need for all uses.”
State and federal officials are striving to find ways to help farmers and ranchers feed and water their livestock herds as the extreme drought conditions continue.
Southwest Missouri averaged .15 inches of rain within the past week, but the region remains in severe drought classification. The Palmer Drought Severity Index puts this area in need of more than 12 inches of rain to return the area back to normal.
The United States Department of Agriculture is allowing Missouri landowners to use up to 50 percent of the grass areas within the Wetlands Reserve Program easements for haying purposes until August 31, and all bales must be removed by September 15. The WRP is where the Natural Resources Conservation Service purchases easements from landowners in exchange for commitments to maintain areas as wetlands.
“Normally, cutting hay is prohibited within WRP easement areas, but during this critical time, Missouri livestock producers need access to all of the forage resources at their disposal," NRCS State Conservationist J.R. Flores said.
Missouri has 994 wetland easements covering 140,000 acres. Haying is temporarily allowed in areas previously planned for herbaceous, but areas dedicated to benefit migratory birds with permanent pools are not allowed.
“Because of the drought, most of the permanent pools are now dry, but we still need to protect those areas so that they will be useful to migratory birds as soon as there is enough rainfall to put water into the pools," Deckerd said. "Haying those areas could damage the natural wetland plants that will return as soon as they get some water."
The areas that USDA are allowing include wet meadows containing prairie cordgrass and stands of reeds canary grass.
Grazing is not being permitted because livestock access can cause damage to the wetlands.
Those interested in baling on wetlands must first contact their NRCS office and obtain compatible use authorizations.
Missouri also has a hay directory for livestock producers as well as other information and resources online at MO.gov.
Getting hay for livestock is a critical problem farmers face, but finding enough water is starting to be a bigger concern. Last week, Gov. Jay Nixon authorized an emergency program to provide assistance with drilling or deepening water wells or expanding irrigation systems. In the first two days, more than 600 farmers submitted applications. A total of 33 contracts were awarded as of Friday with an average award of $6,300.
Because of the response, Nixon directed another $5 million into the program to supplement the initial $2 million dedicated from the State Soil and Water Reserve Fund.
“The shortages of water and hay caused by the drought have hit Missouri farmers hard, and the response we’ve seen to this assistance program is evidence of how bad the problem is,” Nixon said. “We’re putting more resources into this program, and continuing to work in other ways to help Missouri agriculture during this drought. We will stand with our livestock producers and farmers every step of the way.”
The emergency cost-share program is available to Missouri livestock or crop farmers whose production is being severely impacted by the current drought. Up to 90 percent of the eligible project cost will be covered. Normal soil and water cost-share programs provide 75 percent of the project cost, with the landowner covering the remaining 25 percent. Because of the emergency situation of the drought, applications from farmers for this cost-share program must be submitted by Aug. 6, to either the local soil and water district or online to the state of Missouri at MO.gov.
“We appreciate all of the efforts by state and federal leaders to date but it would give us some hope if the U.S. House of Representatives would immediately pass the new farm bill,” Purdom said. “It contains feed assistance programs that could help us this fall and winter.
“Dairy farmers facing this severe drought need help now. It would be extremely helpful if we had support for added transportation costs to bring hay and feed in from farther away than normal.
“The time to act is now, but it won’t do us any good unless we can hang on,” he said. “I continue to remain hopeful that our leaders realize the severity of the situation we are facing here in Missouri and with our dairy farms.”
“The drought has taken a major toll on beef and dairy farms in the area,” said Tim Schnakenberg, an agronomy specialist with University of Missouri Extension based in Galena. “High nitrates and short hay supplies will continue to plague these farms as we go into winter.”
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is supporting legislation to help provide relief to Missouri’s livestock producers struggling with the worst drought in half a century.
“Missouri’s livestock producers can’t afford to wait any longer for U.S. House members to pass the farm bill that’s been sitting on their desks for weeks,” said McCaskill. “This legislation is another way we can provide necessary resources, while we wait for the House to get busy and pass the farm bill.”
The Wildfire and Drought Relief for Ranchers and Farmers Act would reauthorize three livestock disaster assistance programs that expired in 2011: the emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish program; the livestock forage disaster program; and the livestock indemnity program.
The farm bill approved by the Senate this session reauthorizes the essential livestock disaster assistance programs included in the Wildfire and Drought Relief for Ranchers and Farmers Act, supports agriculture jobs, strengthens resources for family farms and ranches, and reduces the national deficit by more than $23 billion. McCaskill said the farm bill -- approved with a strong bipartisan vote of 64-35 -- also provides crucial resources that allow Missouri’s crop producers to manage risk and new programs that help Missouri’s dairy farmers to cope with high costs.
The House has not scheduled a vote on the farm bill.
Locally, the Barry County Extention Center is providing a drought tour at 6:30 p.m., August 14, near Pleasant Ridge for farmers who want to discuss the issue and gain tips for surviving the drought.
The program will focus on how to deal with high nitrate levels in feeds, precautions for nitrates and prussic acid, how to stretch hay supplies, renovation of pastures, fall forage alternatives, supplementing pasture and hay and ammoniation of low quality hay. Renovation of pastures with annual ryegrass will be a focus of this tour since it has been successfully used on this farm.
“Farmers need to know the precautions to take and take extra steps to stretch their feed supplies,” Schnakenberg said.
Contact the Barry County Extension Center at 847-3161 for more information.
This tour will be at the Forest Family Farms located half mile north of Pleasant Ridge on the east side of Farm Road 1150. Pleasant Ridge is located seven miles east of Monett on State Highway Z and four miles west of State Highway 39 in northern Barry County.