Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday declared a drought alert as state agencies respond to an expanding drought that he said could lead to financial ruin for farm families.
Parson, who is a farmer, said at a news conference that 53 counties, largely in southern Missouri, are experiencing drought conditions, which are moving into central regions.
The conditions are not expected to improve anytime soon, he said, making it necessary to begin providing resources now.
“We've learned from past experience, the more proactive we are, the better we can help our farmers and citizens lessen the impact of even the most severe droughts,” he said.
Missouri's drought comes as much of the western United States is suffering under an extensive drought that is hitting California and the Southwest particularly hard. In recent months, dry conditions have advanced into larger portions of the Midwest.
A drought monitor map produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Thursday showed every state in the U.S. had at least a small area considered to be in a drought this week.
Among other things, Parson's order will activate the state's drought assessment team, and allows state agencies to temporarily suspend some administrative rules and find appropriations to mitigate the drought's impact. The Missouri Department of Transportation also is waiving some fees and restrictions to permit easier movement of hay.
Chris Chinn, director of the state agriculture department, said almost 75% of Missouri is in a drought, with 35% severe to extreme conditions.
“Producers are having to make some really tough decisions,” Chinn said. “They are having to cull part of their herds and send then to markets. Others have already feeding hay in July, when normally you wouldn’t do that in the fall.”
The state departments of Natural Resources and Conservation have identified water sources on more than 40 conservation areas and 20 parks in the state. State agencies also are finding conservation land that can be used for hay for farm animals.
Chinn and Parson said even if rain comes, the drought conditions will extend into the winter and the state will be prepared to work with farmers for many months to come.
Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley said the dry conditions also are contributing to an increase of wildfires, with more than 90 fires consuming 491 acres since June 1.
Missouri has asked U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and federal officials for national resources to help with drought response, Parson said.