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Missouri cattle rancher still hopes for rain

A young corn plant grows in a field full of plants that failed to survive the drought in Missouri. Cattle rancher Ken Lenox says farmers in Missouri are struggling with the Midwest drought. Some have resorted to tapping wells they haven't used in decades to provide water for their herds.

This drought is an equal opportunity disaster -- affecting all kinds of crop and livestock producers. 

Last month we introduced you to Ken Lenox. Mr. Lenox is a commercial cattle rancher in Rolla, Mo. We called him back to see if the weather's improved.

"Since we talked last, we had 0.6 of an inch, which brings us up to a grand total -- I added it up -- to 4.5 inches since March," he says. 

He says farmers all over Missouri are resorting to tapping wells they haven't used in decades.  

"Our main problem is water right now. That's what's gotten a lot worse in the last 30 days is water for the cattle to drink," he says. "The ponds are going dry, one right after the other. We're opening up old wells that haven't been used in 30-40 years."

Lenox says he can get through the year if the drought continues, but he worries about the future. 

"In the 1950s, we had three of these years in a row. That's got me worried almost as much as what's going on this year."

Kai Ryssdal: We mentioned corn prices and farmers earlier in the show. But this drought we're having is an equal opportunity disaster. Anybody who makes their living from the land is getting hit. We did some calling around last month and found a cattle rancher named Ken Lenox in Rolla, Mo. Had a good talk, so we've dialed him back up. Mr. Lenox, good to talk to you again.

Ken Lenox: Good to hear from you.

Ryssdal: So first things first, I guess. Have you had any rain?

Lenox: Since we talked last, we had 0.6 of an inch, which brings us up to a grand total -- I added it up -- to 4.5 inches since March.

Ryssdal: Which is clearly not enough.

Lenox: Clearly not enough.

Ryssdal: What's it doing actually on the ground? Are you seeing the grasslands die and turn yellow and all that?

Lenox: Yeah. That was the same as it was, it's just more prevalent. You see more timber dying out across the landscape. Nothing's green. The only thing the cattle have to eat that's green is the leaves off the trees.

Ryssdal: Can they eat that? I guess they can, huh?

Lenox: Oh yeah. There's men that are even cutting trees down so they do have something green to eat. But our main problem is water right now. That's what's gotten a lot worse in the last 30 days is water for the cattle to drink. The ponds are going dry, one right after the other. We're opening up old wells that haven't been used in 30-40 years.

Ryssdal: At this point, you'll take what you can get, right?

Lenox: That's right. Same way with hay, take what we can get. I don't have enough hay if we have to start feeding in October and November, so we're in the market trying to buy hay right now.

Ryssdal: Have you started selling off any of your herd yet?

Lenox: Not of the main breeding herd. I'll only sell off the ones that don't have no calf in them. If we don't get no rain in September, we're really in trouble. Now I can make it through the rest of August, into September, but my herd starts calving the first of September. I want them to be in good shape to re-breed back.

Ryssdal: Yeah and if you've got baby calves there, what are you going to do with them if you can't feed 'em?

Lenox: That's where my living comes from, so I have to take care of them.

Ryssdal: So this is going to sound like a completely ridiculous, city slicker question to ask, but do you suppose the cow's know something's going on?

Lenox: Oh, their routine has changed greatly. They're walking a lot further between meals, you might say. If I have to fudge on feed, I want to do it while it's warm -- not in the wintertime. So I've forced them to say on pastures longer while it's warm and they're eating leaves off the trees and dead grass. I do not want to short 'em when the water's cold.

Ryssdal: So how much longer can you go on like this, Mr. Lenox?

Lenox: I can go through the year. That's all right. In the 1950s, we had three of these years in a row. That's got me worried almost as much as what's going on this year.

Ryssdal: 1950s, you must have been like what, 15, 20 years old?

Lenox: Young teenager, yes.

Ryssdal: But you remember that?

Lenox: Yes, I remember it very well.

Ryssdal: Well Mr. Lenox, good luck to you. We'll call you in a month or so to see how you're doing, all right?

Lenox: OK. You have a good day, too.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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