JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s a hot topic, literally. What does this heat mean for drought conditions across the state?

While many parts of Missouri saw rainfall earlier this month and drought conditions are improving, it’s this heat that could cause the state to take two steps backwards, because the evaporation rate is that much higher.

“We’re losing potentially two-tenths of an inch of rainfall that fell on those fields every day when it gets this hot,” Missouri Department of Natural Resources Director Dru Buntin said. “It increases the loss of that moisture in the soil when you have these types of extreme heat.”

After the driest April and May since 1988 and now the heat, the agriculture industry continues to struggle. Farmers are left with tough decisions like sending cattle to market early due to a lack of feed.

“The folks are cutting grass right now that they probably should have left to grow a little bit longer, but the reality of it is you get it now or it’s straw in a couple weeks,” Rep. Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, told the Drought Assessment Committee Tuesday.

Erin Flanning with the Department of Natural Resources said during Tuesday’s meeting that farmers are reporting only 28 bales of hay this year in fields that generally produce between 100 and 120 bales.

“Most of them fertilized this year, spent a lot of money doing it because 2022 was so bad that they needed to get all the hay they could,” Flanning said. “Not only are they behind, but they are further behind because of the investment that they made that didn’t result in additional hay.”

The committee was activated after Governor Mike Parson signed an executive order earlier this spring declaring a drought alert. The group is made up of state and federal agencies. State climatologist Zach Leasor told members parts of the state are a foot below average rainfall.

“July improved a little bit, especially late in the month with some of those rains that we saw, but when you put three top 20 driest months on record together, this really creates those drought conditions,” Leasor said. “It’s also been hot and dry, so we’re losing a lot of moisture from the recent rains and not getting any rainfall to place it.”

Leasor said evaporation rates have increased since Aug. 20, causing the state to lose roughly a quarter of an inch of rainfall back into the atmosphere each day.

“With these high temperatures, we need to be weary of that evaporate transpiration over the next week,” he said.

A beef nutrition specialist from the University of Missouri told members during the meeting he’s concerned how farmers will struggle to feed caves this winter because farmers are producing roughly 25% of their normal hay crop this spring.

For the first time in weeks, drought conditions are improving, but the U.S. Drought Monitor map still showing some parts of Missouri are experiencing an extreme drought.

On top of the lack of rainfall, now add in the record-setting heat and no measurable rainfall in the coming days to help offset the evaporation rate.

“It’s also been hot and dry, so we’re losing a lot of moisture from the recent rains and not getting any rainfall to replace it,” Leasor said.

The National Weather Service, who also sits on the committee, said the three-month drought outlook is not encouraging for the time being.

“For areas where drought exists, we are expecting that drought to persist over the next three months,” said Mark Fuchs, National Weather Service. “There really isn’t an outlook for enough participation to beat the drought back in areas where it currently exists.”

As for drinking water, DNR says it currently is not concerned about supply. Also, the Army Corp of Engineers said that for now, navigation season along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers will not be cut short.

“When you have a foot less than your normal annual precipitation, just because you get those rain events that come through and provide some short-term benefits, we still need recovery in the soil moisture, we still need more rain in those areas to really make up for a multi-month deficit that we have,” Butin said.

The state is also 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.

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 group plans to meet again in September.