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Missouri livestock farmers get federal help to survive droughts and floods

A miniature Hereford cow, one of many show cows owned by Jayson Pearson, 14, during a competition on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, during the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. Miniature Herefords tend to weigh around 1,000 pounds, and are around the same size as the original Hereford cow, before that species was bred to be larger.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help Missouri livestock farmers adapt their farms to droughts and floods.

Livestock farmers in Missouri are getting help from the federal government to make their farms better equipped to deal with droughts and floods.

The Biden administration awarded the state $6 million in November, part of a major investment in rural America, in a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Missouri officials decided to apply for the money after severe droughts in 2022 and 2023 – the first time the state had seen back-to-back droughts since the 1950s. That forced some livestock farmers to reduce their herds because they did not have enough food or water.

The federal funds will help farmers hook up to additional water sources or design their fields to retain more water either from irrigation or storms, said Jim Plassmeyer, director of the soil and water conservation program at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

That can include planting different crops for grazing and native grasses, he said, or borders around the field to slow down runoff.

“We’re trying to capture as much on-farm as we can,” he said.

Ultimately, Plassmeyer said, the goal is to give farmers the ability to avoid selling off herds in the future.

“Everything that we can do to help the farmers to be resilient and maintain their business is going to help the local economies throughout the state,” he said.

State officials are working to finalize a partnership with the USDA, Plassmeyer said.

While the federal government will distribute the funds, it’s up to the state to figure out what projects they would like to see implemented and develop the criteria that will eventually be used to rank the proposals that are submitted.

Plassmeyer said he hopes work can begin on the first projects in the summer of 2024.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.