drought

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media

Updated at 8:40 p.m. July 19 to correct numbers in 2nd paragraph —There are few places better to see the effects of an intensifying drought than a hulking, 200-plus-acre complex just off of Interstate 44 in southwest Missouri.

This is the Joplin Regional Stockyards, one of the biggest in the country, selling more than 430,000 head of cattle in 2017 alone. Usually, they’ll have 800 to 900 cows on the block at weekly Wednesday sales. On July 11, they had double that.

Madelyn Beck / Harvest Public Media

Western Illinois might be close to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, but it’s the driest part of the state this year.

“We really haven’t really had any measurable rain since the middle of October,” says Ken Schafer, who farms winter wheat, corn and soybeans in Jerseyville, north of St. Louis. “I dug some post-holes this winter, and it's just dust.”

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager for the valley's Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”