Four meetings have been held around the state by the commission, and the fifth and final meeting will be held in Jefferson City on Tuesday, December 18, at the Missouri Department of Agriculture Building. This meeting will be open to the public as the commission discusses some of its findings with the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s director, Dr. John Hagler.
I was honored to serve as the chairman of this interim commission and appreciated the opportunity afforded me to visit different areas of our state. Our commission met and talked with farmers and agribusiness people concerning how the widespread drought impacted them and their businesses. Each meeting was well attended, and many who were given the opportunity voiced their gratitude for the commission’s presence and for its willingness to listen to their individual problems.
Mexico, Missouri, was the location of our first hearing. There we listened to testimony about protecting our state’s water rights and the impact of federal law on states. Currently the Legislature is looking for ways to maintain the state’s right to use its water without oppressive federal regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to modify the existing Clean Water Act by removing the word “navigable” from the law’s language. If they are successful, the EPA will control all water in the U.S., including all lakes and streams. The EPA would then be in complete control of these bodies of waters and regulate them as they see fit.
In addition to water rights, we discussed concerns about aflatoxin in corn and its impact on the sale of corn around the state. Aflatoxin is the term used to refer to a group of extremely toxic chemicals produced by two molds that grow on certain plants, including corn. These toxins can be produced when the molds or fungi attack and grow on host plants. Extreme heat, the lack of moisture, and corn ear injury from insects make conditions more favorable for production of these molds.
While the drought has reduced corn yields across the state, other problems, including aflatoxin, have created shortages in our state’s corn crop. These shortages have resulted in disagreements between those advocating for using the existing corn for cattle feed versus those advocating it be used for ethanol production.
Charleston, in Mississippi County, was the site of our second meeting. We heard testimony on the impact of the Corps of Engineers’ decision to breech the Birds Point levy in 2011 and on the impact of drought on Southeast Missouri’s row crops. Witnesses described events leading up to and following the Corps’ decision to blow the levy. They discussed their concerns about future flooding in the Mississippi River region, as flooding in this area can affect up to 300,000 acres of farmland. Because of this summer’s lack of rain, workers were almost able to complete work on the Birds Point levy. We had an opportunity to not only view the rebuilding, but we also were able to tour the actual site. This gave us a better overall understanding of the situation with which folks in this area are dealing. Other topics addressed were irrigation issues in the southeast part of the state and the concerns presented about the possibility of a future tax being placed on waters used for irrigation purposes.
Mountain Grove’s Community Center was the location of the third meeting. Here we joined U.S. Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson, who provided the commission with information concerning the federal farm bill and federal crop insurance. We discovered there are five counties in this region of South-Central Missouri in which farmers cannot buy crop insurance for corn or soybeans. There was also testimony on issues facing the dairy industry in Missouri. Dairy farmers in this region are having a difficult time finding enough feed to maintain their herds. Because of the drought, the costs for feed have increased, doubling, and even tripling in some cases, while the price of milk has decreased, leading to economic hardships for these producers. The commission was asked to look into several different programs that might help dairy farmers offset their increase in costs.
The fourth meeting was held in Neosho at Crowder College, and the commission heard updates from Senator Roy Blunt’s and Congressman Billy Long’s offices on the federal farm bill. We also heard updates on the governor’s well program and about the affects of the drought on beef cow herds in Southwest Missouri. Other issues discussed were MSIP 5, the proposed career and technical program changes coming from DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) in Missouri. If approved, this proposal would remove any requirements for schools to provide career and technical education. Agriculture educations fall under this category.
Final topics discussed in Neosho addressed the dog breeder industry in Southwest Missouri, the state’s aging farmers, and the inability for younger farmers to get the funding needed to start up and operate their farms.
The commission will present its final report to Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones before December 31.