If you have a high-pressure barge of ridging east of the Rockies, which weve been dealing with for months now, there seems to be troughing in other parts of the globe, said Chris Bowman of the National Weather Service station in Pleasant Hill, Mo.
Even in a single county, this drought is delivering different blows to different people.
Monty and Mary Wheeler raise Black Angus cattle near Bolivar, Mo., in Polk County. In early July, they shipped 117 head to a feedlot in Kansas, weeks ahead of schedule. All the good grass in their pasture had been eaten and low grain yields elsewhere were driving up the cost of feed.
Our pasture? Its all burnt brown, said Monty Wheeler, 63, with an uneasy laugh. This is as bad as I can remember
Even if we still had some grass, theres no nutrition there. Its dried up to straw.
The Wheelers nine-month-old calves should be weighing about 600 pounds each. Theyre at 450.
A few miles away, Trent Drake raises corn and soybeans on 600 acres. Some of his neighbors already have chosen not to harvest their crops, opting for the less-expensive process of bailing the fodder as silage for cud-chewing livestock.
Luckily, Drake has an irrigation system thats keeping most of his field looking OK.
If his corn hangs in, Drake could benefit from the high market prices.
The corn is pollinating now, so its critical they get that water, he said.
That water doesnt come cheap. Pumping it from his well at 1,500 gallons a minute, Drake is spending about $700 a day just on the diesel that fuels the pumps.
And hes been doing it 24/7 for a month. Three summers ago, his fields needed irrigation for only six days.
Crop insurance mitigates the costs for many farmers who will suffer losses this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this month unveiled rules that officials said would speed up low-interest emergency loans to farm operations in more than 1,000 U.S. counties designated as disaster areas, including nearly all counties in Missouri and Kansas.
Yet that wont come close to covering the creeping expenses of drought.
For consumers, the short-term price of beef just might dip a few months from now, with the market glutted by so many stressed cattle nationwide being shipped for fattening and slaughter at the same time.
But next year, gird for shocks at the checkout counter: Fewer calves will likely lead to higher prices not only for meat but also for other products gleaned from livestock, such as soaps, pet food and leather items, experts predict.
Products containing corn or soy could jump in price, too. That includes ethanol.
Calculating the costs of a prolonged drought is fraught with accounting challenges and potential oversights.
A 1991 research paper published by Colorados Westview Press estimated the total cost of the 1988 drought, which ravaged the Plains and mountain states, at $39.2 billion. But critics noted losses reportedly suffered by non-agricultural sectors such as the public water supply, tourism, recreation or the $1,000 a homeowner mightve spent to remove a dead tree were left out.
The University of Missouris Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute considered some of those multiplier effects when adding up the costs of the dry summer of 2002. Researchers arrived at a direct loss of $251 million in the agriculture sector and expenses almost as steep $209 million for the rest of the states economy.