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Missouri offers farmers help to get through drought

Livestock in Missouri.
File | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
Livestock owners in Missouri can get free water from several state-owned sites due to current drought conditions.

Missouri is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades, and state officials are implementing some emergency measures to help ease the pain.

Gov. Mike Parson, three of his Cabinet members, and a group of agriculture leaders announced Monday that farmers and ranchers can now get hay and water from several state-owned properties.

They’ll be allowed to access water from 28 state conservation areas and five state parks, located primarily in the northern half of Missouri. And a lottery will be conducted in which those selected will be allowed to harvest hay on nearly 900 acres of state park land.

Parson admitted it’s not a cure-all for everyone’s problems.

“We’re still going to be short on fall pasture in the cattle industry, row crops are still out there – they’re going to have to figure out how that weather situation affects them,” he said. “This is a long way from being over yet – [today‘s announcement] was about just trying to help.”

Ninety-eight percent of the state is experiencing drought, with the most extreme conditions in northwestern and north central Missouri.

“We have some farmers who are hauling hay in from other states, while other farmers are culling their cattle herds,” said Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn. “Some farmers quite simply are just selling what they can to try and pay the bills every month – it’s a serious situation.”

Livestock owners needing water will be allowed to pump up to 5,000 gallons a day for their family-owned farms, and they have to bring their own equipment. It’s limited to Missouri residents only, and re-selling of the water is prohibited.

Credit National Drought Mitigation Center at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln
Drought conditions in Missouri, as of Aug. 14, 2018.

The Department of Natural Resources is conducting the hay lottery; entries are being accepted through Saturday. The winners will be announced on Aug. 27.

“We wanted to provide access to haying our state parks in a way that was fair and gave everybody an opportunity,” DNR director Carol Comer said. “We will open up the acreage and provide the ability for farmers to put their names in.”

Sean Cornelius heads the Missouri Dairy Industry Alliance and owns a dairy farm near Hamilton, in Caldwell County, north of Kansas City. The farm is within the hardest-hit drought zone.

“I can report 1.7 inches of rain overnight last night, that brings us to a total of 3.2 inches since May – that is very short,” he said. “Our [state agencies] did an excellent job of releasing feed resources early on that cattle producers are able to take advantage of, and this access to water is the next real need that we have.”

Monday’s actions follow last month’s executive order from Parson placing 47 counties in Missouri under a drought alert and activating the state’s drought assessment committee, which includes the departments of agriculture, conservation, and natural resources.

“Some people are not going to make it, unfortunately,” Parson said. “By us helping a little bit, maybe we save some people’s businesses and farms out there.”

A website, dnr.mo.gov/droughtresources, has been set up provide information on which state parks and conservation areas are providing water, and to sign up for the hay lottery.

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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