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Winter Weather Gives Hope to Farmers for Stronger Growing Season

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Photo Credit: Michele Skalicky

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With the winter weather the Ozarks has been experiencing, some might wonder if the region has finally escaped the drought. KSMU’s Shane Franklin questioned experts on the topic and tells us how it’s impacted a local farmer.

So far this year, over 5.3 inches of snow has fallen over the Ozarks. That’s over half an inch above normal, according to Andy Boxell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

“But one has to keep in mind that we started the year down a pretty considerable amount, as we ended 2012 almost 15 inches below where we should have been. Even though we’re half an inch ahead, we still have a lot of ground to make up,” reminds Boxell.

Boxell says that we’re certainly starting to make a dent in the drought that’s been wreaking havoc on the agricultural community throughout much of the Midwest for over 18 months now, some say longer.

“So far so good, but this trend will certainly have to continue for some time for us to finally climb out of the drought,” says Boxell.

The drought affects everyone. The dry heat keeps many people either miserable or indoors. Farmers though have no choice but to go outside, even in the summer heat of a drought stricken Ozarks.

Junior Roberts, one farmer here in the Ozarks, is hopeful that this year won’t be like last.  

“It’s really turned around in the last 60 days. We’ve had quite a bit of moisture. We’re not where we need to be but we’re in way better shape than we were before it came,” explains Roberts.

Roberts farms wheat and barley and used to produce over 700 round bales of hay per year, but the lack of moisture has been causing problems for Robert’s fields. He says that a lot of grass has permanently died out, and will have to be replanted, further straining his time and resources. He didn’t get grain from his fields last year at all, and he says that weeds are thriving in places he’d never even seen them grow before.

With all this extra work for local farmers, it leaves you to wonder how this affects the price of hay and other produce.

“Before the drought, in the field, I was getting $30-35. But now, you know, $55-60 is what it’s bringing. Now some farms, I know it’s higher than that, $70-75. If I sell any right now out of the barn, which I ain’t going to, but if I did, I wouldn’t take a penny less than $55 a bale for it. There ain’t no way, [be]cause I gotta have it,” says Roberts.

With the price of hay doubling in less than two years, the effects of drought are reaching further than just the agriculture community.

Andy McCorkill is a livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension office in Dallas County. McCorkill is worried about how the drought will affect the livestock industry into the future.

“Our feedlot capacities are starting to dwindle because some of those feedlots are going out of business, because of lack of cattle to put in the feedlots and high prices they are having to pay for the feed, both. It is possible that some of the processing plants will be shut down too, and it takes a long time to get that infrastructure built back up,” says McCorkill.

This setback to the industry comes at a particularly troubling time.

“The national cow herd is as small as it has been in around 60 years right now, so the beef supply simply isn’t out there. People are trying to rebuild in the middle of the drought, which has kind of been counterproductive in some senses because it’s pretty difficult to get more numbers when you can’t take care of what you have,” he says.

McCorkill mentioned that it’s not just the high cost of hay that’s making it so difficult to take care of the nation’s livestock. Like Roberts experienced last year, there’s also a shortage of corn and soy beans.

This means consumers are getting the pinch from all sides. So unless moisture continues to fall over the Ozarks, come summertime, you may be able to escape the sweltering heat in a sanctuary of AC, but you’ll certainly notice the drought drying out your pocket book at the grocery store, where you simply cannot escape the rising price of grains, beans, meats, and dairy.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.