September 4, 2003

Rain May Dampen Drought Aid Efforts

While the much needed rain that dampened Scotland County over the Labor Day weekend may take some of the attention from drought concerns government officials likely will still proceed in attempts to help agricultural producers hurt by the dry July and August.

On August 29, following a request earlier in the week for 39 Missouri counties to be declared disasters because of drought, Governor Bob Holden asked the Missouri Farm Services Agency to assess drought damage in the state's remaining 75 counties.

Senator Kit Bond recently announced that he has urged U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to grant a disaster declaration for 39 counties in Missouri due to severe drought conditions.

"Once again Missouri's agricultural community has been hit hard by drought," said Bond. "Our farmers and ranchers need immediate relief, and this declaration will help."

The Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service (MASS) crop and weather report for last week stated row crops and pastures continued to deteriorate over most of the state as hot, dry weather prevailed.

The outlook for corn and soybeans declined steadily in recent weeks reflecting the moisture shortage. Most of the corn crop is now too advanced to benefit from rain as much of the crop is dented and drying. Soybeans remain urgently in need of moisture to develop pods, with development already hurt severely in many bean fields.

The topsoil moisture supply is rated at 66 percent very short, 24 percent short and 10 percent adequate, with only the east-central, south-central and southeast districts indicating adequate ratings as high as 20 percent or higher. More than three fourths of the state's pasture ground is reported in poor or very poor condition.

According to the MASS report nearly 60 percent of the state's corn crop is rated poor or worse with more than 60 percent of the soybeans in similar condition.

Governor Holden's request highlighted the MASS report's findings. He said a persisting lack of rainfall and extremely hot temperatures had caused crop and livestock conditions to continue to deteriorate throughout most of the state. Although not all counties have experienced the same degree of dry weather, the majority of the state remains drought-stricken, and the situation will probably get worse before it gets better, he said.

"Rather than waiting for the state's drought situation to get worse, I am asking the federal government to assess damage throughout the remainder of the state," Holden said. "Agriculture plays too significant of a role in Missouri not to take any action we can. To me, assessing all counties is the most efficient way to provide assistance to our farmers."

Holden's latest request includes the following counties: Adair, Audrain, Barry, Bollinger, Boone, Butler, Callaway, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Christian, Clark, Cole, Crawford, Dade, Dallas, Dent, Douglas, Dunklin, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Howard, Howell, Iron, Jasper, Jefferson, Knox, Laclede, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, Maries, Marion, McDonald, Miller, Mississippi, Moniteau, Monroe, Montgomery, New Madrid, Newton, Oregon, Osage, Ozark, Pemiscot, Perry, Phelps, Pike, Polk, Pulaski, Ralls, Randolph, Reynolds, Ripley, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Schuyler, Scotland, Scott, Shannon, Shelby, Stoddard, Stone, Taney, Texas, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Webster and Wright.

Areas in northwest Missouri are classified as being in extreme drought, while much of the western and west-central regions range from moderate to severe drought. The dry conditions that have plagued northern and western Missouri for two years are creeping south and east this year, Holden said.

"While some parts of the state have received spotty rains this week, the accumulation has not been enough to offset two years of extremely dry weather," Holden said. "We're continuing to work with our Congressional delegation and federal and state agencies to provide assistance to Missouri farmers."

The damage assessment reports will show the extent of the drought damage and could make producers in those counties eligible to apply for low-interest loans, Holden said. The loans can be used to restore or replace property, cover all or part of production costs, pay essential family living expenses, reorganize farming operations and refinance debt.

For more information on disaster aid, producers should contact their local Farm Services Agency.

Bond hopes with his urging the disaster declaration request for Missouri that recently came from state officials, will be quickly approved. A disaster declaration would allow farmers to access farm programs, such as the low interest loan program, which are vital to helping farmers get through this season and purchase their seed and fertilizer for the next growing season.

Already this season, the Missouri Farm Service Agency Board has extended haying and grazing of CRP land at Bond's request, but Bond feels further action is needed to bring real relief to farmers.

At this point, not even the extended period of steady rainfall could stave off the effects of Missouri's worst drought in 15 years. Still, producers can take steps to minimize the economic consequences of the drought of 2003, a University of Missouri agricultural economist said.

"There are no silver-bullet economic strategies for farmers facing the drought," MU extension associate professor Ray Massey said. "But there are some bullet points that could be expanded upon."

The prohibition against importing cattle from Canada has driven up beef cattle prices, he said. "This is a good time to cull cow-calf herds. Our slaughter plants don't have as many cattle as they normally have, and we're also at the top of the cycle" for cattle prices.

"If you're having a difficult time with your pasture or finding enough hay, now's a good time to cull your herd heavily because you'll get a decent price," he said.

Some of the worst hit areas might have the best alternatives for drought relief, Massey said. For example, in counties declared disaster areas, capital gains on the sale of livestock may be deferred.

"If your farm is in one of those counties, you should ask your tax accountant about special tax deferrals. If you happen to sell your combine, it would apply to that, too."

Farmers in designated disaster areas are often eligible for low-interest loans, he said. "Low interest loans aren't free money, but they can be less expensive money to help carry a farmer through the next year."

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