Farm drought

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FULTON - Despite rainfall these past two days, statistics show most of Missouri is dryer than usual.

Data released Thursday from the National Drought Mitigation Center shows most of northern Missouri is under severe and moderate drought conditions, while parts of southwestern Missouri are seeing "abnormally dry conditions."

Anita Ellis, a regional livestock specialist based in Callaway County, said the drought has slowed grass growth. This in turn affects the production of hay, making it tough and hard for livestock to eat.

"We didn't have much of a spring - very little rainfall, very cold weather, and then it got hot and dry very quickly so roots of the grasses that animals are consuming, it wasn't able to penetrate the soil quite as well so we are having issues with that," she said.

Ellis said producers have complained about the very low hay supply. The hay available is rather expensive, but necessary for farmers.

"It's easy to store, it's a good forage alternative for their animals. And if you don't have that, you're going to have to think of some other things," Ellis said. 

Northwest Missouri cattle farmer Tristen Creason said he bought livestock this past year and did not expect such a low production of hay.

"It's pretty disappointing to have the weather we're having. Getting a profit back on some of these cows can be hard, but I'll manage," he said.

Ellis said poor hay quality affects farmers, or producers, who have livestock, especially as they prepare for the winter months. 

"Whether you have 50 cows, 10 cows, you got to make sure they're all well fed so the hay is going to be useful," she said. "If you look out and you see the grass is pretty yellow, pretty short, cows can't eat that to the ground so maybe you might have to put out a bail towards the end of summer or a lot earlier than you would expect."

Ellis said previous droughts Missouri has seen have been a lesson for many farmers.

"These farmers are very resilient. They learn from things like 2012, so probably most of them have developed a plan and probably won't be quite as affected," she said. 

The drought forces farmers, including cattle owners, to brainstorm ways to manager their herds in order to make it to the following year. 

Creason said it's hard to predict how the drought will impact him.

"I currently haven't sold any cattle yet. I just don't want to lose my money, but if that's what has to happen, then I'll pick up next year and try my best to improve," Creason said.

Ellis recommends farmers cut down their herd size, but low cattle prices have made it hard for farmers to do so.

"It's going to be different for everybody's farm or operation," she said. "One way, when we are losing forage or not getting very good forage growth like we would from lack of precipitation, we usually recommend culling the herd or selling off cattle in this case so it's not as simple as loading up the trailer."

Ellis said, no matter what stress they're under, most Missouri farmers are usually able to keep their operations running and their animals well fed and cared for.

"These are some very smart individuals. They think of some very creative things. I've heard of some wild stuff and it works, it works for them," she said.