KAHOKA, Mo. -- In 30 years of farming, Jamie Ross has seen dry years, but nothing like this.
"I've never seen it this dry this early," the Kahoka farmer said. "Even if we get rains this week, we're still just mid-June. We still have July and August, our hottest, driest months, to get through."
Ross recorded just 1.4 inches of rain since April 10 before last week brought another 7/10ths of an inch -- the driest conditions in Northeast Missouri.
The most recent drought monitor map put Clark and Scotland counties in the severe drought category, with Lewis and Knox in moderate drought along with most of Hancock County, Ill.. The rest of Northeast Missouri and West-Central Illinois had abnormally dry conditions.
"We're really hoping rains come through this week," Ross said. "Say we go two more weeks without any rain, and I don't know what disaster we'll be facing, but it won't be pretty."
The dry weather alone has been enough to wilt crops and stress livestock without the added challenge of higher-than-normal temperatures earlier in the growing season.
"The heat is as much of a problem as the dry right at the moment," Ross said. "You can handle dry and cool. You can handle wet and hot. But it's hard to handle dry and hot."
It's the complete opposite of the wet, cold conditions that delayed spring planting. Ross didn't start planting corn until April 20, later than usual, and soybeans about April 28.
"We didn't have one rain delay when we were planting. My brother and I said you can't beat this. I wish we'd had some rain delays at this moment," Ross said. "It's part of farming. You deal with what Mother Nature throws at you and figure out how to make it work."
In the meantime, corn leaves roll themselves tightly during the hottest part of the day and soybeans take on a grayish cast -- both signs of dry weather stress.
"For as dry as it is, things don't look too bad," Ross said.
Rick Edwards worries that things might get worse.
"We anticipate some fields will start tasseling the end of this week and first of next week," said Edwards, who farms near Quincy, Ill., and is president of the Adams County Farm Bureau. "It's a critical time in setting yield potential. We've lost some yield potential and in some of the later-planted corn really lost some yield potential. Beans are just kind of sitting there, not growing much. July rain makes corn. August rains make beans."
Edwards would like to see an inch of rain for five days in a row to "tremendously" help the crops now, then a couple of inches of rain a week.
Even on irrigated land on lighter soil types, "with this kind of heat, it still presents a challenge to get the yield," he said. "This is more like first of August, end of July weather than middle of June."
Even though the region is drier and hotter than normal, other areas of the nation's breadbasket report more moderate conditions and thriving crops, forcing down prices for corn and soybeans.
"With as high as input prices are and the way the farm economy is right now, we have to raise a really good yield to break even at these prices," Ross said.
Just as challenging is the livestock side of his farming operation.
"If it doesn't rain in one or two weeks, we'll be forced to feed hay. Normally that doesn't start until September," Ross said. "Hay is running about 70 percent of last year's crop, and last year's crop was less than the year before."
Across northern Clark and Scotland counties, livestock water levels are getting extremely low, and "pastures have really turned around from adequate last week to slowly burning up this week for cattle," said Bill Bonine, farm loan manager in the Clark County Farm Services Administration office. "We're probably going to be looking at people having to get rid of some cattle. They don't have any grass, don't have enough hay."
Producers harvest hay, then have to turn around and feed it because of the hot, dry conditions.
"We need a good soaking rain to get the grass fired up and going again," Ross said. "The pond is so low. We'd have to get a tremendous amount of rain for it to ever run into the ponds. It's just dry."