The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 30, 2012

National Weather Services forecasts two more weeks of extreme heat

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — According to the National Weather Service office in Springfield, the past 365 days have been the hottest year on record for the Joplin area.

Andy Boxell, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the average temperature for the past year has been 61.7 degrees. That is 2 degrees higher than the average for the calendar year 2006, and is comparable to the Dust Bowl year of 1934.

“We’ve really been in this pattern since 1990, a very persistent pattern of having a strong ridge of high pressure centered over the nation’s midsection,” he said. “That has resulted in very warm temperatures and a lack of rainfall.”

Boxell said there were 31 days in 2011 when temperatures topped 100 degrees. So far in 2012, he said, Joplin has experienced 20 days of triple-digit highs, and the forecast calls for more hot and dry conditions over the next couple of weeks.

The high temperatures and lack of rain have taken a toll on farmers and ranchers in the area. In Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas, 80 percent of pastureland is rated as “poor to very poor.” To make matters worse, thousands of acres of pasture have been lost to grass fires brought on by dry conditions.

Gary Roark, Newton County emergency management director, estimates that since July 1, 1,300 acres of pasture in Newton County have been destroyed by fire

Lynn Oxendine, owner of Champion Feed in Joplin, said the drought has many farmers and ranchers worried about their ability to feed livestock through the winter.

“Last year, hay was bringing $50 or $60 (for a large round bale), but most of it was going to Texas because of the drought down there,” he said. “I know some folks who have hay to sell this year, but I’m not sure if they are selling it. It’s going to be hard to find, and it’s going to be expensive.”

Oxendine said farmers and ranchers are being hit with “a double whammy” this year because of the rising price of animal feed. He said feed prices are spiking because the drought has resulted in a poor corn crop.

“People are really worried and really concerned because this is something that we have not dealt with before,” he said. “Last year, there was a hay shortage, but the drought didn’t affect the Corn Belt.”

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center estimates that more than 70 percent of the corn and soybean crop in Kansas, Missouri and Indiana has been adversely affected. The Department of Agriculture has forecast this year’s corn yield at 146 bushels per acre — the lowest yield since 2003.

James Dawson, a botany professor at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University, said the damage to area crops is evident.

“We did have a good bit of water in the spring, so the winter wheat did pretty well, but the corn is only about 4 feet tall, and the soybeans are not looking very good either because of the drought,” he said.

Dry conditions have caused many farmers to chop corn and soybeans for silage, and the poor harvest has caused major fluctuations in the price of animal feed.

“I used to change prices every eight to 10 weeks,” Oxendine said. “This will be the third price change in three weeks, and it will be the biggest of the three from what I’ve seen so far.”

Oxendine said major feed producers such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are unable to fill all their feed orders because they cannot purchase enough corn and soybeans to keep up with demand.

As a result of rising feed prices and concerns about the water supply, many ranchers are selling off their herds to cut costs. This could result in a short-term decrease in beef prices, but the Department of Agriculture says prices of meat and dairy products are expected to rise.

Despite the dire predictions, Boxell said it’s not quite a “Grapes of Wrath” scenario just yet.

“It certainly compares to (the Dust Bowl) years, but we’re not at that point quite yet,” he said. “We’re going on the second year of this drought. We had a relatively wet spring last year, but June and July were very dry and, of course, we were very warm and dry through the winter months. That was the case during the Dust Bowl years.”

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