Dan Pehle started farming full-time when he turned 18. Before then, he had helped with the family farm for longer than he can remember. He just celebrated his 30th high school reunion.
“As far as conditions are concerned, (this year) is probably as dry as it’s been in my lifetime — widespread,” Pehle said.
The mid-Missouri growing season has suffered a rain deficit of about eight-inches from May 1 through July — with July having the warmest average daily temperatures on record since 1927, Julie Phillipson, of the national weather service, said.
“That’s when it really hits home,” Phillipson said.
The conditions are bad enough that Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order for emergency funds in the millions to farmers facing dire straits from the drought, and all 114 Missouri counties including the City of St. Louis have been given disaster designations. A disaster designation enables certain farmers to apply for low-interest loans with 24-hour approvals, and other emergency assistance.
“The entire year has been warm,” Pehle said. “We had 80-degree temperatures in March, and I’m not talking about just one — we had multiple days.”
Although an early start in planting this year gave good hopes for the season on Pehle’s 2,900 acres, Pehle said he is preparing for less than 25 percent of his normal corn harvest. But he will still harvest so long as there is corn in the fields.
“We had as good a prospect as we’ve ever had this year,” Pehle said “We were done planting by Memorial Day.”
“That’s early for us, and we could have been done sooner if we pushed a little harder,” he said.
Now, Pehle’s 18-acre irrigation pond is down to about three-acres, he said. This season the pond wasn’t even full to begin with.
Gov. Nixon came to Pehle’s farm Tuesday, July 24, to announce an emergency program that gives drought-affected farmers and ranchers aid in accessing water.
Farmers and ranchers facing severe production affects from the drought would be covered for 90 percent of eligible project costs to drill or deepen water wells, according to a news release. The program will cover up to $20,000 per contract.
“Missouri farmers have been hard-hit by water and hay shortages, as a result of extreme weather conditions affecting most of the state of Missouri,” Gov. Nixon said. “This emergency program will make it easier for farmers to drill or deepen water wells, or undertake other water distributions projects sooner, in order to care for their livestock or crops.”
Normal soil and water programs cover 75 percent of project costs.
Gov. Nixon initially directed $2 million to the emergency program, but after more than 600 applications came in just two days after his announcement, he directed another $5 million into the fund. As of Monday, July 30, 490 contracts have been approved through the program, paying a total of $2.1 million in assistance. The deadline to apply for emergency assistance is Aug. 6.
Applications may be submitted to local soil and water districts or directly to the state of Missouri at Mo.gov.
For emergency low-interest loans, qualified farmers will receive a 40 percent reduction in the amount of time it takes to get approved, and the loan will carry an interest rate of 2.25 percent — down from 3.75.
Qualified conservation reserve programs will receive a payment reduction from 25 percent to 10 percent for emergency haying and grazing in 2012.
As for corn, Pehle said the plant, as opposed to soybeans, shows stress by drying its leaves.
Before drying up, the leaves roll up closer to the stalk. Soybeans don’t visibly show stress like corn, so soybeans may look better off — but that depends on whether rain comes.
Soybean plants can slow their growth when sensing a loss of moisture or increased heat. Soybeans wait for rain before resuming growth. It’s all or nearly nothing for corn.
Pehle said soybeans compensate for the weather by either aborting flowers, pod growth, or reducing the amount of beans produced per pod. Once conditions are favorable, soybeans can resume the flowering process to produce pods and therefore more beans.
Corn is unable to compensate for the weather. After a corn plant flowers to pollinate and produce its kernels, it may only abort the amount of kernels being produced per cob.
If a rain event does occur after a corn plant starts aborting its kernels, the plant cannot re-flower to produce more kernels. Soybeans get another chance to produce — corn doesn’t.
“All of that is totally dependent on whether you get more rain,” Pehle said. He said rain can only help corn from retreating further.
“We’re completely depleted,” Pehle said. “We need it to start raining, and we need for it to keep raining.”