SEDALIA, Mo. – Even with many parts of the state receiving rainfall over the past week, this summer’s drought is still taking a toll on Missouri farmers.
While some might think the recent rain has improved things for the state’s agriculture industry, stakeholders say the impact of the drought will be felt for months and years to come. During a listening session at the Missouri State Fair on Monday, the state told the federal delegation that Missouri needs help.
“We’ve been blessed to have had the rain we’ve recently had, but the reality of it is, for the row croppers, for cattle, for livestock producers, that problem doesn’t stop with the rain,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “Going into fall, we’re going to be short on pasture, we’re going to be short on supply, and we’re going to have to get through the winter somehow.”
After the driest April and May since 1988, farmers across Missouri are left to make tough decisions like sending cattle to market early, due to a lack of hay.
“We were down in Polk and Dade counties and hearing farmers with their overalls on and dirt under their fingernails, almost in tears because of what’s happening on their farms,” U.S. Rep. Mark Alford said. “Not having the foliage and the hay that they need.”
Both state and federal policymakers joined the listening session in Sedalia hosted by Alford Monday morning. Pennsylvania Congressman Glen “GT” Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, sat in on the listening session with other stakeholders like Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Republican Missouri Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, U.S. Rep. Monica De La Cruz (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson (D-IL). The group spent nearly two hours at the fairgrounds fielding questions and requests from the Missouri farming community.
“How we live on the farm, we certainly don’t want to do anything to harm where we earn our living,” dairy farmer Tom Oelrich told the panel. “Farmers have been sustainable before sustainability was cool, and I guess we would like to get some credit for the things we’ve already implemented.”
The reason behind the listening session is to help Congress draft a new farm bill, a multiyear law that governs a handful of agricultural and food programs. The current farm bill is set to expire at the end of September.
“That’s not a calorie consumed that’s not produced by a farmer or a rancher someplace,” Thompson said. “We want to build a 2023 farm bill based on input, just like we heard today at the Missouri State Fair.”
Monday’s event comes just days after Tyson Foods announced it would be closing two chicken processing plants in Dexter and Noel, cutting thousands of jobs.
“Tyson still has a good relationship with us; they still have five operations going in this state, so we want to make sure we continue that partnership with them,” Parson said. “It was simply a business decision they made. It’s unfortunate; we don’t want to lose any businesses, but at the same time, we have gained businesses in this state by the same decisions by other companies.”
“It’s not something they [Tyson] offered any of the states to get involved in and so what we have to do now is how we help those people,” Kehoe said. “I know our Department of Economic Development, Department of Agriculture and our workforce development people will be sending reaction teams into both markets in McDonald and Stoddard counties to figure out what they can do to help those workers find additional training and the training they need to get them replaced and what we can do with the plants themselves.”
Others who spoke to the panel asked for more money to be spent on expanding internet access in rural parts of the state.
“It needs to happen,” Thompson said. “It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a requirement. It’s a high priority for the committee.”
“Missouri is making some of the largest investments in our state’s history when it comes to broadband,” Parson said. “If you can walk into your house, and you can flip on your electric switch and the lights come on, then we can do the same thing for broadband.”
Later this month, the Drought Assessment Committee, made up of state and federal agencies, will meet again in Jefferson City to discuss what other resources need to be offered in reaction to the drought.
In June, 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 in 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.
The Department of Agriculture does offer a mental health resource for the farming community. The AgriStress hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Producers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak to a healthcare professional.
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.
DNR also has a variety of resources online and continues to add information on drought mitigation and assistance opportunities.
The committee said it is still monitoring drinking water levels, but currently there are no emergency measures in place. The group plans to meet again in August.