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Is Missouri out of drought risk?

Rains boost soil moisture, but a La Niña heat wave could still affect the region.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

May 30, 2024

2 Min Read
A young crop sprouted in soil
ON REPEAT? Missouri farmers experienced a wet planting season this year. If the rains turn off and the heat takes hold, the state’s crops could be facing another dry growing season — making it three droughts in three years. Mindy Ward

Most of Missouri exited drought conditions this month, but above-average temperatures could reverse this trend.

The May 14 update shows that only 17.98% of Missouri is either abnormally dry or in moderate drought. This is an improvement from six weeks ago, when the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 66.55% of the state abnormally dry or in a drought.

Abundant rainfall over the past two months improved the situation after back-to-back drought years in 2022 and 2023, says Zack Leasor, University of Missouri Extension state climatologist.

Even with widespread improvements in the short term, he says Missouri remains vulnerable to drought this year based on long-term dryness and above-average temperatures through the beginning of 2024. Adding to the scenario is a shift from El Niño to La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean, which often produce a warmer and drier summer.

Rain recharges soil moisture

Missouri experienced its 15th-wettest April since 1895.

Several locations in western Missouri received just over 10 inches of rainfall during April, Leasor says in a news release. By the end of the month, year-to-date precipitation in Missouri was 12.87 inches, 1.58 inches above average.

Soil moisture levels and streamflow improvements have been significant across the state, although groundwater recovery lags behind.

Related:Guide to corn replant decisions

MU Extension - Graphs illustrating monthly precipitation from January through April 2024 from average of 1901 through 2000

On April 1, 58% of the U.S. Geological Survey monitoring gauges in the state recorded at least below-normal streamflow (less than 25th percentile); that number dropped to 1% as of May 15.

“Agricultural drought impacts have been absent, but the timing of rainfall early in the growing season has made planting and planning fieldwork difficult,” Leasor adds. “Groundwater has been slower to recover after several years of dry conditions, but there have been improvements since April.”

The National Weather Service Climate Center expects the active weather pattern to continue through May and predicts a higher probability of above-average precipitation in June.

La Niña heat brings plant problems

Above-average temperatures affect plants.

Agronomists consider 86 degrees F as the optimum temperature for corn and soybean growth. Temperatures above that slow important reactions, including those involved in photosynthesis, reducing yield potential.

The direct effect of elevated temperature on crop yields is small in most years, but when temperatures top 95 degrees, corn and soybean yields may drop even in the few areas where there is adequate precipitation.

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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