MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A week of almost daily rains after July 4 could not overcome three years of deficit rainfall, but Mississippi's pastures and crops show evidence that the drought is over, at least for a short time.
Charles Wax, state climatologist and Mississippi State University professor of geosciences, compared the rain deficit to lost sleep.
“When you lose sleep, you can't catch up. Extra rest can help in the future, but the past is over,” Wax said.
Mississippians can expect more drought-like days ahead, but for now, Wax said most of the state is in good condition.
“The official ending of a drought is when there is enough water to meet needs,” he said. “If you walk out into a pasture or field today, there appears to be plenty of moisture.”
Wax said a high-pressure system dominated the state's weather in recent months, while a low-pressure system dumped rain daily on Texas. At the end of June, most of Mississippi was experiencing about a 10-inch rainfall deficit. Some parts of northeast Mississippi were as much as 20 inches behind the year's average.
Art Smith, the MSU Extension Service's area agronomy agent based in Tunica County, said fields received anywhere from 0.5 to 5 inches of rain in the week after Independence Day.
“All crops benefited from the rains, but especially the later soybeans planted in fields after the wheat harvest,” Smith said. “We missed one hay harvest during the drought, but this should help growers get the second cutting of the year.”
Rankin County Extension director Houston Therrell said the rains were hard on farmers with recent hay cuttings on the ground. Much of that hay will be unsuitable for baling.
“Growers who had not cut before the rain are seeing the crop grow 2 or 3 inches per day,” Therrell said. “Pastures, golf courses, athletic fields and lawns will be the big winners in this area. The rain was too late for much of the corn and soybeans. Those crops have already done all they are going to do.”
Erick Larson, Extension corn specialist, said the rains helped the majority of the state's 980,000 acres of corn, but it arrived too late for some fields, especially in east-central and northeast Mississippi.
“The rains will definitely help as long as the corn was successfully pollinated and did not die from severe drought stress before the recent rain,” Larson said. “However, the number of kernels and the rain's effect on yield potential was probably already limited by drought stress in most fields. But the rains will help increase grain weight and improve plant health and stalk quality.”
Larson said these improvements could be more important this fall if the state's limited grain handling infrastructure causes harvesting delays. Mississippi growers have planted the largest corn acreage in nearly 50 years and should easily set a new total-yield record.