The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 21, 2012

Missouri, Kansas farmers coping with worst drought in 50 years

— One of Steve Murphy’s earliest memories is the summer of 1954. Ask anyone in this area about that year and they’ll tell you: It was hot.

Darned hot.

Historical records put temperatures at 100 degrees 39 times that summer.

“I was just 2 years old at the time, but I remember things from that summer that made a real impression on me,” he said. “Like my father backing up to the chicken house to get a load of dead chickens because of the heat.”

“And sleeping outside at night, just trying to keep cool. They put wet sheets on us, my brother and sister and I, to try to keep us cool so we could sleep. I guess that’s my earliest memory.”

Murphy now farms that Crawford County farm with row crops and livestock.

This hasn’t been an easy year for him: Coming off the heels of 32 days at 100 degrees last summer, this summer brought a drought disaster that now ranks as the largest in more than 50 years and among the 10 largest of the past century, according to a report released by the National Climatic Data Center last week. That summer of 1954 is ranked third worst.

The report also shows that since 1895, only the extraordinary droughts of the 1930s and 1950s have covered more land area than the current drought. Data from the Palmer Drought Severity Index show that at the end of June, 54.6 percent of the contiguous 48 states was in drought — the highest percentage since December 1956.

No relief in sight

It’s taking a toll on those in Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas who make their living in cooperation with Mother Nature, and there is no end in sight, meteorologists say.

“The corn crop has been reduced by at least 50 to 80 percent,” Murphy said Wednesday from his tractor. “The hay is pretty well dried up and gone.”

“I’m feeding supplemental feed with hay and some grain to the cattle to keep them going like they should be. Dipping into your winter feed supply, it’s going to make it real difficult later on. That’s the thing about drought — you really feel the affects of it on down the road.”

Murphy, 59, has been at farming full time for about 35 years. Outside of this year, he recalled 1980 as the worst in his farming career.

“We were getting three bushels of soybeans to the acre, where the county average would be about 25 to 30 bushel,” he said. “You remember those real bad ones.”

That year, July temperatures hit 100 and kept on climbing, day after day.

“This year is different, though, because it started so much earlier.

“It started in June being so dry. Last year was dry, but we’re dryer now because it started so much earlier,” he said. “The crops have used all the subsoil moisture.”

Murphy, who doesn’t irrigate, typically relies on some 42 to 44 inches of rain a year. Seven months into the year, rural Crawford County has had just 16 inches; Pittsburg, to the east, has had 25.

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