Scattered rains brought slight improvements this past week in a drought affecting most of Missouri.
In his weekly "Drought Picture," University of Missouri economist Scott Brown tracks dry weather severity for farmers.
"This drought is more varied than the last drought," Brown said. "Within the state drought remains heaviest in northern counties."
For Missouri farms affected this year, it's bad. But overall it's not like 2012, a drought that changed the farm economy.
Now, 72 percent of Missouri faces a D1 or moderate drought. But 17 percent of the state is D3, or extreme drought. That compares to 2012 when 90 percent of the state was D3 and D4, or exceptional drought, for five weeks.
This year the drought moderates locally with scattered showers, but widespread rains normally brought by cold fronts are lacking.
Corn maturing early showed slight improvement in yield outlook this past week. But 79 percent of the corn crop passed dent stage. No more yield increase there. That compares with denting at 53 percent on average by this time for the past five years.
Soybean yield projections remain flat. But soybean fields still hold promise. Beans keep blooming if dry weather withers early attempts. In the fourth week of August, 76 percent were still setting pods. Only 2 percent showed color, marking maturity.
Livestock don't fare well with 72 percent of pastures rating poor or very poor. Haymaking was cut short.
Brown says hay prices shot up $60 per ton since first of the year. USDA reports average hay prices run $150 per ton. That's higher than record prices set in 2012.
Missouri projects hay production at 5.2 million tons. That's less than in 2012 and lowest since the 1988 drought.
Making cattle care worse is lack of hay in the barn. May first hay stocks were only 580,000 tons, lowest since 1984.
A real mark of drought for cattle farmers occurs when they start hauling water. Ponds and creeks have dried up. Now 59 percent of Missouri's stock water is short to very short.
With short forage and water, rural rumors say cattle are going to the sale barn. Brown says market reports don't show a dramatic increase in cattle sales.
Some feeder calves are weaned early, boosting calf movement. But that isn't a drastic change from recent years. Southwestern Missouri cattle have moved more in the last nine weeks, Brown said. The drought hit that area later than northern Missouri. Southwest cow culling went up in the last six weeks.
Missouri had just returned to No. 2 in cow herd size in the nation. State rankings shifted after the drought of 2012. After rebuilding, Missouri herd owners remain slow to downsize.
A major difference from the 2012 drought has been differences across the state. Northern Missouri counties suffered early and heaviest.
Most counties declared for emergency assistance have been north of the Missouri River. There's little lap over into southern Iowa or eastern Kansas. The remainder of the Corn Belt stays in better shape.
Within the state, an area of the east-central Ozarks south of St. Louis and north of Sikeston shows near-normal rainfalls.
A map of the Drought Monitor from Aug. 21, 2018 can be seen below: