OSAGE BEACH, Mo. — Missouri’s governor extended the drought alert through the winter months after more than half of the state is still experiencing a dry spell. 

Gov. Mike Parson told a room full of farmers and ranchers Monday morning during the annual Missouri Farm Bureau meeting at Lake of the Ozarks that it’s going to be a tough winter for the agriculture industry. He said that consumers should also be prepared because this drought will most likely affect their pocketbooks. 

“Mother Nature just takes its course on us sometimes, and we have to try and figure out how we can survive,” Parson said. “It’s nothing something that just ends because summers ends, or grass season ends. It’s going to be a tough winter for a lot of us, and we’ve got to recognize that.”

Last week, Parson extended the executive order until March 1. Currently, 87% of Missouri counties face abnormally dry conditions and conditions are not expected to improve this winter. At one point over the summer, roughly 75% of Missouri was in a drought and more than 30% was in a severe drought. 

Months after the dry and hot conditions dried up ponds and left little to no grass in some areas for livestock, Missouri farmers are still feeling the effects. 

“A lot of guys around us, they’ve been feeding hay for two months, and normally we wouldn’t be feeding until around Christmas time because your winter pastures are depleted,” said Aaron Holder, a farmer in Cleveland, Missouri. “We’ve got several ponds on our property that got extremely low.”

Holder and his son Wyatt are cattle farmers in Cass County near the Kansas, Missouri border. The father-son duo also grows and sell hay. 

“With the drought the way it hit, our yield was actually down 20%, we ended up actually barely treading water, maybe losing a little bit of ground,” Holder said. 

Besides the drought, they are also dealing with inflation. This year, the Holders are paying more to transport their harvest because of high diesel prices. 

“We would be getting paid more but because of inflation, we are making less money,” Wyatt said. “We have to constantly worry about money and where it’s coming from and making sure we have enough of it.”

Aaron said in 2021, at this time, he was paying roughly $2.80 a gallon for diesel. At one point during the harvest season this year, diesel was $5.80 a gallon. 

“Our hay prices went up 50% this year which sounds like we’re going to make a lot of money but in the end, we ended up at $10 a ton less coming in by the time we factored the fuel prices,” Aaron said. 

During the annual meeting, the governor told the room of more than 1,200 attendees about his recent trade mission to Israel, Greece and Dubai. He said those countries want to invest in the Show-Me State, home of 95,000 farms and third in the nation for beef cows. 

“Eighty percent of their food products are shipped into their countries,” Parson said. “Eighty percent. Just grasp that for a minute. Food security is a big deal to them.”

Since Parson signed the executive order for the drought alert in July, state and federal agencies have met to assist farmers and ranchers. The order activated the Drought Assessment Committee under the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The group met last month to discuss concerns heading into the winter months. 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of southwest and southeast Missouri are still in an extreme drought. In the map released Thursday, Barton, Jasper, Vernon and Scott counties are in an extreme drought. Dozens of other counties are in severe and moderate drought, and a large chunk of the state is abnormally dry. 

Map shows drought areas in Missouri counties, credit by: U.S. Drought Monitor

“We want farmers to do well because the more product they have, the better it is for the consumer and I think that’s what people need to realize, is where food comes from and how fortunate they are to live in Missouri,” Parson said. 

The committee is made up of members from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, Department of Conservation, Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, along with the National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Army Corps of Engineers.

During the November meeting, the group discussed how the navigation season along Missouri’s rivers would be forced to end a few days early due to low water levels. The committee unanimously approved to form an impact team for navigation and to include members from MoDOT, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, DNR, MDC, the waterways council and the Department of Economic Development. 

Another concern is low water levels could also cause ice damns along the rivers. The executive order is now set to expire March 1, 2023. 

During this executive order, The Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Conservation have provided drought maps and information for access to water for farmers on the departments’ websites

Parson also told the crowded room that while on the trade mission, they managed to seal the deal on with an Israel company who makes lithium batteries to start manufacturing in Missouri. 

“While we were there, we were able to finish a deal with a $400 million investment in Missouri to start making those products, for those batteries to come here,” Parson said.