Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in Alton Friday as part of their annual low-water inspection.

The Corps has stepped up emergency scouring and dredging operations in response to the unprecedented low water levels in the Mississippi River Basin.

Marty Hettle works for the barge operator, AEP.  He says the river forecast is not expected to trend upward any time soon.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s drought conditions have increased the threat of wildfires across the state.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) presided over a drought briefing today at the Missouri State Fair for emergency management and public safety workers.  He says the wildfire risk will stretch into fall, as drought conditions are now expected to last through November.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Updated 5:35 p.m. with updated figures.

Gov. Jay Nixon says the state has approved about 4,900 requests from farmers for help in improving their water supplies amid Missouri's extreme drought.

The emergency program provides for the state to pay 90 percent, rather than the usual 75 percent, of the cost of drilling or deepening a well or expanding an irrigation system. The state's share is capped at $20,000 per project.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Candidates debate in Illinois' 12 Congressional District

After nearly twenty years representing Illinois’s 12th Congressional District, Jerry Costello is retiring at the end of his term.  The three candidates looking to fill the open seat debated in Carbondale last night. 

Adam Allington/St. Louis Public Radio

In the high-profile race for U.S. Senate in Missouri, incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill is seizing on this year’s drought to win support among rural voters. 

Speaking at the historic Soulard Farmers Market, Senator McCaskill laid in to her opponent in the November election—Republican Congressman Todd Akin—for his opposition the Senate version of the federal farm bill, which includes disaster assistance for farmers reeling from this year’s record drought.

Were it not for Republicans like Todd Akin, McCaskill says that relief would be on its way to farmers and ranchers.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

A University of Missouri veterinary professor says farmers need to be careful when feeding drought-damaged corn to their livestock.

Tom Evans is an associate professor of veterinary pathobiology at the university's College of Veterinary Medicine. He says nitrate levels can accumulate in drought-stressed corn and pose a risk to animal health.

Many farmers across the Midwest are abandoning ruined corn crops and salvaging what they can to feed to their animals, especially cattle.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

McCaskill gears up for campaign against Akin

Senator Claire McCaskill stopped at a sheet metal shop in Kansas City, Mo. Wednesday morning to kick off her campaign for the general election.

The Democratic incumbent criticized her newly anointed Republican challenger Todd Akin as being out of the mainstream on Medicare, student loans, and the minimum wage.

McCaskill said she will better represent the middle class.

ollesvensson / Flickr

With hotter-than-usual temperatures, orchards in southern Illinois are reporting their apple crops are weeks ahead of schedule.

Tom Range of Braeutigam Orchards in Belleville says they picked Gala apples last week. Normally they pick them in the middle of August.

Another surprise this year - the sugar content of the fruit is very high, making for sweeter fruit.

Sherry Chase of Mills Apple Farm in Marine explains that the apples "tend to be sweeter because the sugars are more concentrated."

Kurt Schilligo contributed reporting for this story.

The record summer heat has probably contributed to the death of some of the elk herd recently reintroduced in the Missouri Ozarks.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says six female adults and four calves died in mid-to-late July. The mothers of two of the calves were among the dead females.

(via National Drought Mitigation Center)

Extreme drought conditions in Missouri have worsened even though nationwide the total area affected by this year’s severe dry weather has decreased slightly. That’s according to this week’s report from the US Drought Monitor.

The portion of the country facing any level of drought decreased a point to about 63 percent. Meanwhile, about 93 percent of Missouri is in an extreme to exceptional drought.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) says his administration is keeping tabs on river levels along the Missouri and Mississippi as drought conditions persist across the state.  He indicates that the Missouri River may be in worse shape.

“I think that the challenges on the Missouri are a little more significant than the Mississippi," Nixon said at a gathering Wednesday in Jefferson City.  "Minnesota has had a fair amount of rain in that part of the country, but we’re watching those issues very carefully.”

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Missouri businesses directly harmed by the summer heat and drought can get low-interest loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Small nonfarm businesses, agricultural cooperatives and nonprofit organizations are eligible for up to $2 million for expenses caused by the drought.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared a disaster for 114 Missouri counties, making farmers eligible for low-interest loans and other assistance.

There's more sun and heat in the forecast for St. Louis. Not great for a region that's in the midst of the worst drought in decades. Now, we've heard about the effect the drought is having on on farmers -- but it turns out it's also shrinking the shipping lanes in the Mississippi River. Our own Adam Allington reports for Marketplace Morning Report this morning. See more via the link.

(via Flickr/My Blue Van)

Firefighters say it make take a week to fully contain another wildfire burning in the Mark Twain National Forest.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Review your route: I-64 work has begun

Several ramps on the stretch of I-64 that runs through downtown closed for roadwork this morning.

The ramps from 10th Street and 14th Street will be closed around the clock, as will the ramp from Broadway.

Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman Andrew Gates says there will also be ramp closures for motorists heading into downtown.

(via Flickr/BotheredByBees)

Reporting for this story by KRCU’s Jacob McCleland.

The ongoing drought obviously hurts most crops, but not honey. The dry weather actually helps beekeepers.

(Adam Allington/St. Louis Public Radio)

A new report from the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ongoing drought has caused the nation's cattle herd to shrink by more than 2 million head so far this year.

Analysts project the dry weather will impact prices in the checkout aisle.

Today, we have two reports on the effects of the 2012 drought.  In this combined feature, Adam Allington takes a look at the region's corn farmers.

But first, St. Louis Public Radio's Tim Lloyd reports on the agonizing choices faced by Missouri cattle ranchers.      

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

More money is being put into an emergency program to aid farmers and ranchers battling water shortages in Missouri.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has added $5 million to the $2 million set aside for crop and livestock producers who want to drill new wells or deepen existing ones during the ongoing drought.  More than 600 applications have been sent in since the program’s announcement on Tuesday.

A fierce drought has been scorching crops this summer, but it's still too soon to know exactly how much of a hole it will burn in your wallet.