Vernon County agriculture's last experience with normal precipitation was in 2010, so the prospect of a sub-par moisture year in 2013 is worrisome to farmers and stockmen who are suffering from the drought.
University of Missouri Extension Agronomy Specialist Pat Miller of Nevada said Wednesday that the winter wheat planted last fall is up, growing and looking good, but Miller said the wheat will need a good bit more rain this spring before area farmers plant their other two big money crops, corn and soybeans, on which they took a beating in 2012.
"We haven't really had any moisture, just a little dusting," she said. "The creeks and ponds and sub-soil moisture are very low."
Miller noted that revenues from last year's profitable winter wheat crop offset to some degree the spotty soybean production and virtual heat wave wipeout of Vernon County corn except on the northeast side of the county, where a big June rain made the Harwood-Fair Haven area an exception to corn growers' county-wide and statewide woes.
Miller said the local success of corn and soybeans and the growth of perennial tall fescue grass for hay for livestock feed will hang on the traditionally rainy months of March, April and May.
"Some of the late soybeans made well and others didn't make anything at all," she said. "It was just real variable. The pastures are not growing much at this time of year. The livestock watering ponds are low and it looks like we're going into spring pretty dry."
National Weather Service Lead Forecaster Steve Lindenberg of Springfield reported Wednesday that 2010 was the last year Vernon County surpassed the 30-year average annual precipitation of 46.53 inches. The 2010 total was 48.87, followed by 39.71 in 2011 and a disheartening continuing decline to 37.47 inches in 2012.
Respective moisture totals in January 2010, 2011 and 2012 were .60 of an inch, 2.35 inches and .31, said Lindenberg; and comparative February numbers were 1.58, 4.54 and 2.06; March, 5.50, 2.47 and 6.29; April, 2.46, 2.99 and 8.22; May, 11.04, 4.60 and 3.01; June, 2.77, 2.47 and 3.14; July, 7.77, 2.79 and .53; August, .85, 3.81 and 2.98; September, 12.87, 3.33 and 6.64; October, .57, .58 and 2.60; November, 2,53, 6.07 and 1.41; and December, .83, 3.71 and .28.
"We had good rains in March and April, but we missed it in the summer and fall," Miller said. "The biggest issues are sub-soil moisture and livestock water supplies. If the ponds go dry and people don't have a well, they may try to rent a pasture that has water or use a rural water district, which is pretty expensive."
Vernon County Farm Service Agency Executive Director Travis Claypool said the water crisis briefly lightened with last September's 6.64 inches but returned to form in the last quarter of the year. "We were above the 30-year average in September, but since then we are below it again," Claypool said Wednesday.
"The winter wheat needs moisture because we are getting low. The corn and soybeans varied a lot last year, but they were down from what production should have been. I would rate most of them as poor. We definitely have to get out of this drought cycle that we've been in for the last couple of years."