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Extended drought hurts southwest Missouri growers, consumers

July 10, 2012|by Steve Grant, KY3 News |

LAMAR, Mo. --  Brown stalks, shriveled leaves and husks rustle in the wind whooshing like a short-circuiting hair dryer.  That's the sound of money blowing away in a hot wind beneath the scorching sun across Barton County.

"We are in a rerun of 1988.  There are good fields, and some are just catastrophes," said crop consultant Dan Scott, who works out out of Golden City for Pioneer Seed.

Scott's assessment and others cover the entire state on the same day that the governor asked for a federal agriculture disaster declaration for every Missouri county to help farms with crop and livestock losses from the drought.

On Alan Washburn's sprawling farm near Lamar, the fields thick with corn are mostly green stalks.  Grabbing a seven footer, Washburn points out "this is the way it's going to be, even thought the field looks great."

High as an elephants eye, yes, but he expects to average 30 bushels an acres when it's ready, instead of the goal of 150.  Shucking a stunted ear, Washburn laughs and pronounces it "niblets, yeah, like they serve in the buffet."

Missouri is a bellweather state for hostile weather.  It's easy to spot where it hasn't rained.  Some corners and parts of Washburn's and his neighbors fields are as yellow as desert sand.

Barely a third of Missouri's corn corn will be worth picking, by some estimates.  According to Scott, who monitors prices almost by the hour, "if you have corn, it's wonderful.  Even if it went (hypothetically) to $20 a bushel, so to speak. If not, and it won't, it doesn't matter."

High farm prices are guaranteed, but mostly where fields are irrigated, currently around $7 a bushel.  Watering corn can be as high as $90 an acre.

"I don't think anybody will make extra money.  And, at the grocery, retail producers (food companies) will pay more for product," said commodity broker Chris Longworth of Ozark.

You don't have to be an economist to know higher corn will mean higher grocery prices down the road.  Beef prices are predicted to jump 10 percent next year.  And so it goes in the cereal aisle as well.  Soda pop contains high fructose corn sweeteners, as does popcorn. 

If summer rain arrives soon, Washburn predicts his corn crop would improve from bad to good, but only if temperatures hover near normal and heavy rain arrives, too.  Fortunately for the rest of us, the hope that farmers plant every spring is not lost in the dust.

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