By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Missouri’s livestock producers and dairy farmers are in real trouble.
If it does not rain soon, they could be forced to sell their herds. Some already are.
An emergency relief program, authorized in an executive order on July 23 by Gov. Jay Nixon, had been tapped by more than 490 livestock producers and farmers as of Monday morning. The assistance, so far, has totaled $2.1 million.
More than 1,150 have applied for the assistance to drill or deepen wells or expand irrigation systems. Under the program, 90 percent of the eligible water project cost will be covered. Normal soil and water cost-share programs provide 75 percent of the project cost, with the landowner covering the remaining 25 percent.
The deadline to apply for the program is Monday, Aug. 6.
Nixon visited the Joplin Regional Stockyards on Monday to update livestock producers and farmers on the emergency cost-share program. Based on the response so far, Nixon said, “It is clear we are meeting a real and pressing need.”
The need is so great that Larry Purdom, a dairy farmer at Purdy and president of the Missouri Dairy Association, could not pick up an application form at the Cassville office of the state’s soil and water program.
“I went down to Cassville and applied, but they had no forms to fill out,” he said. “They already had a list of 100 applicants.”
In addition to 105 dairy cows, Purdom has a herd of about 50 cattle that rely on a farm pond that is going dry. He wanted to apply for the assistance to drill a new well to supply water to his cattle.
His dairy herd relies on water from the family’s household well.
“So far, our well is holding up pretty good,” he said. “But with water, you never know. We could wake up one morning and not have any.”
Purdom said he and other farmers persuaded the governor to add more money to the program because they knew the $2 million initially dedicated from the State Soil and Water Reserve Fund would not be enough.
“We told them they needed to add $5 million to that, and that probably won’t be enough,” he said. “With 114 counties in the state, that’s enough for only a few wells per county.”
Purdom said the association also encouraged the use of conservation funds to launch a reseeding program this fall to benefit wildlife and cattle.
“The grass is dead,” he said. “Bare spots need to be reseeded. The lack of hay and roughage is a major factor now, and it will continue to be this fall and winter.”
Purdom recalled the drought of the 1950s and seeing his father take an ax to trees in the fence rows.
“He’d throw that ax over his shoulder, and the cattle would follow him,” he said. “He’d chop a tree off, and the cows would eat the leaves. This deal is that serious now.”
Purdom said he recently was in communication with a hay broker in Minnesota who said the demand for hay has skyrocketed in Missouri, Ohio and Indiana.
“It was selling for $150 a ton,” he said. “It’s now $250 a ton, and that does not include transportation costs. They’re looking in Canada now to find hay.”
Feed costs also have gone up. Feed was selling for $12 for 100 pounds. It’s now $21 for 100 pounds and going up, Purdom said.
“The saddest part is these young dairymen who are agonizing over what to do with their herds,” he said. “It’s very sad. These are tomorrow’s food producers.”
Purdom said he saw three herds sell last week at the Springfield livestock auction, “and two more herds were ready to go.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently predicted that beef prices will rise 4 to 5 percent; dairy prices are likely to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent; the price of eggs will increase 3 to 4 percent; and pork prices are likely to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent.
In the restaurant at the stockyards, Nixon and Jon Hagler, head of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, listened to a group of livestock producers and farmers talk about how the drought is affecting them. Many of them praised the state’s quick response to the problem.
Some said the state’s 368 licensed well drillers will be swamped with business in response to the emergency assistance program. One of them who had applied for assistance for a new well took a telephone call from a well driller during the meeting.
Jackie Moore, head of the stockyards, said: “I have been with the stockyards since 1977. This is the worst drought I have ever seen. The 1980 drought was really bad, but it was not this big.
“I would say there has been a 25 to 30 percent decrease in the value of cattle because of the cost of feed.”
Gale Turner, who lives southwest of Sarcoxie, owns about 200 head of cattle. In past years, he watered them from three ponds and a spring on his farm. Two of the ponds and the spring are dry. The state program helped him install a new well, distribution line and tank for a total cost of $9,687.
Said Turner: “You ain’t got water, you ain’t got nothing.”