Midwest Soil Still Not Recovered From Drought

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COLUMBIA - The soil in the Midwest still hasn't recovered from the big drought two years ago that affected many farms.

Dr. Randall Miles, an associate professor of soil science at the University of Missouri, has been researching this topic for a while. He said he got most of his information from other projects he's been working on and anecdotal observation.

"I've been noticing this in the last three years course that the drought and deficit in moisture has been a big issue here in the Midwest over the last two and a half to three years," Miles said.

Depending on the location, approximately three, four and even five feet under the soil is dry. However, the soil is a little better this year compared to the previous ones but still has a long way to go.

Miles said two years ago was the worst time for the soil because there was no moisture during the big growing seasons, which are July and August.

"Last year we did get a little better at distribution and more of rain fall when crops needed it," Miles said. "Compared to the last two years, we're not quite as bad. However, it's still below normal for what we would expect this time of the year."

Adam Saunders, the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Columbia Center of Urban Agriculture, said the non-profit organization uses a different system than other urban farms in Columbia.

"We do a lot of irrigation and a lot of mulching which is adding cover to the soil which helps retain moisture much longer," Saunders said. 

The organization started in 2010 and is in its fifth growing season. Unlike the crop fields on the rural sides of Columbia, the center adds lots of compost to the soil, which not only improves the water holding capacity but also increases it. But this doesn't mean the center didn't feel the impact of the drought.

"During the drought that happened two years ago and the smaller one that happened a year ago, we found that we had to do a lot more irrigation to keep the plants alive and to get some production out of them," Saunders said.

With four to five inches beneath the soil still not getting enough water, the growing months of July and August don't seem so bright.

"Typically in Missouri we count on the moisture that comes in late fall and winter to absorb and move down into the lower parts of the soil," Miles said. "But we just haven't had that much moisture to move down there."

Saunders said he's looking forward to Missouri getting some good spring rain this season to make sure the plants will have water to replenish themselves this growing season.

Even though the soil is dry four to five inches from the surface, Miles said we would need to get more rain than that in order to help the plants grow.

"The soil could take more rainfall because when it rains in the spring, it's feasible we get intense rain fall that falls quicker than the soil will take in," said Miles. "It will take more than this [water] to get into the soil."