JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As drought conditions continue to worsen across the state, not only are livestock producers being affected but so is the future of Missouri wine.
During a Joint Committee Hearing on agriculture Tuesday, stakeholders said farmers in the Show-Me State are having to make tough decisions because of this early dry spell, and it could cost them a pretty penny. From an early frost last fall, to below freezing temperatures at Christmas, a late frost this spring and now a drought, the state is expecting a major reduction in Missouri’s grape crop.
“April, May and June parts of our state were probably the driest it’s been since 1988,” deputy director for the Missouri Department of Agriculture Chris Klenklen said.
Nearly all of Missouri is currently experiencing a drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, central and northeast Missouri are experiencing an extreme drought while other parts of the state are seeing a severe or moderate drought. Gov. Mike Parson declared a drought alert at the end of May, activating the Drought Assessment Committee, made up of state and federal agencies.
“It’s a lot tougher than any one of us would have expected six months ago,” interim director of Mizzou’s Rural and Farm Finance Policy Analysis Center Scott Brown told committee members. “I think cattle are the ones taking the brunt of the weather events here in the short run. Even if we get a lot of rain from this point forward, it’s probably fall before we start talking about pasture growth to be helpful.”
These dry conditions leaving little to no grass in some areas for livestock and is starting to dry up ponds, is why farmers are sending their cattle to market early.
The Department of Natural Resources said Missouri is currently in an “agriculture drought” because 50% of the state’s pastureland is either in poor or very poor condition and hay production is a third of what it should be.
Earlier this month, the governor announced emergency plans for Missouri farmers to access water and hay as drought concerns persist statewide. The state is allowing farmers to collect water and harvest hay from state parks.
Farmers can now access emergency water or hay through the following ways:
- Boat ramps at 25 Missouri state parks will be open for farmers to collect water with almost 700 acres available for haying at 17 state parks.
- Boat ramps at 36 Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) areas are also now open for water collection.
- The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is offering special over-width hauling permits at no charge to help farmers and ranchers move hay.
Since the resources became available, Klenklen said so far, only one farmer has pumped water from a state park.
“Cows that we’re getting rid of hurt us in the long run,” Brown said. “I worry about what our industry looks like if we continue to see dry weather for cattlemen as we look ahead.”
This could cause future prices of beef to go up for consumers. But it’s not only livestock farmers feeling the brunt of this dry weather.
“We’re seeing probably a reduction of 60% to 70% in the state of Missouri on our grape crop,” director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board Jim Anderson said. “Projected yields where you have about four tons an acre, you’re probably looking at about one ton and it may be less than that with the dry conditions.”
Between the winter and spring freeze that caused many of the fruit buds to die, and now the drought, the $3.2 billion industry is concerned about the future of grapevines in Missouri.
“With less crop, you’re going to see less wine being sold from these wineries too,” Anderson said. “They are going to have to do more blending to be able to make up the difference with different wines or grapes coming in from different states.”
The state has about 400 grape growers and more than 130 wineries producing wine.
Brown said it’s still too early to estimate the economic impact this drought will have on crops like corn.
DNR is asking Missouri residents to submit information about the local drought conditions online. Buntin said this can help the committee create more accurate maps, allowing members to work better with state and federal partners.
The executive order is set to expire on Dec. 1, unless otherwise extended.
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DNR also has a variety of resources online and continues to add information on drought mitigation and assistance opportunities.
The Drought Assessment Committee plans to meet again in the middle of July to discuss the state of the drought and next steps.