The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, produced in partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows nearly all of the Midwest is experiencing some level of drought.
For many, especially in the western portion of the Midwest, drought has been ongoing for multiple years. It is the second year of a drought in the state of Missouri where I have lived for the past 20-some years.
The intensity in my region of the state has reached a level unlike anything we have seen since 2012.
So much about this year reminds me of 2012, when the ravages of drought forced many farmers and ranchers to make tough decisions for the present and future viability of their land, crops, livestock and families.
Drought affects fertility in breeding livestock. It causes the leaves on trees to roll and become brittle, with some dying and falling to the ground. Prolonged drought can cause trees to die.
As water levels drop in ponds, fish become crowded and aquatic vegetation increases oxygen depletion, which can lead to a fish kill.
We personally experienced all those losses from the drought of 2012. I remember a friend from Iowa visiting in July of that year.
“Why did you spray along your creek?” she asked.
All the vegetation was brown and dying and the brown tree leaves covered the ground. We had not sprayed.
We have not experienced those long summer days with a hot dry wind yet in 2023. But it is dry.
Crops are struggling in the fields. The streams are dry. You can walk across the creek bed without getting your feet wet. The big old sycamore trees along our lane are shedding bark and large dead leaves.
The hay crop is abysmal. A neighbor who rolled up 385 big bales last year yielded 120 bales on that same acreage this season.
Another neighbor’s hay stand was so thin he decided not to invest the fuel and time in cutting, tedding, raking and baling.
Some friends and neighbors have started to sell off a few cows here and there to take the pressure off.
Although they are starting with the “bottom end” of the herd, many have told me that unless the drought ends soon, they will have to cut deep.
Still others are continuing last year’s ritual of hauling water from municipal supplies to their livestock operations because of low water levels in ponds and streams.
The weekly cattle auction at a local sale barn was the largest in its history. That is saying something because that barn has been in business for decades.
Dry conditions and higher feeder cattle prices motivated many producers to take those cattle to auction. We are thankful for higher feeder cattle prices.
All impacted by this drought are experiencing a range of emotions. Most have been through it before and know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
There will be a next growing season and a next calving season. Resilience is a quality engrained in most farmers and ranchers.