JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Heavy rains in mid-August and early September may have given agriculturalists a reprieve from severe dry conditions, but there is still on an “ongoing hydrological drought.”

At a meeting of the Drought Assessment Committee on Thursday, state agriculture officials said they are optimistic drought conditions will ease with fall rains and the beginning of the wet season.

“Yes, we have had some relief but the deeper long-term deficits remain,” said Mark Fuchs with the National Weather Service.

Guinan said that the next four to five weeks are going to be pretty critical in terms of rainfall to relieve the dry conditions and replenish wells and ponds.

During the past couple of weeks, drought conditions have remained relatively unchanged, particularly in mid-Missouri, according to a weekly drought monitor released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 69 percent of the state is experiencing dry or drought conditions which is a considerable improved compared to early August when more than 90 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions.

Three counties are currently experiencing an exceptional drought — the most severe conditions of drought on the four-level scale. Twelve counties are in an extreme drought — the second-worst level. Sixteen counties are in a severe drought.

Pat Guinan, a climatologist in the University of Missouri, said as the state heads into fall, rains in October and November could relieve the dry conditions and replenish water sources.

“Right now, we’re at the best opportunity to put a dent in it,” he said. “We still have some time, and the next four to five weeks are probably going to be pretty critical climatologically.”

Officials at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Conservation said they feel that measures taken by the state to help manage the effects of the drought are helping ranchers.

To help with feed, the state is allowing roughly 900 acres of state land to be harvested for hay. To date, two locations have been cut and baled. Kurt Boeckman, the agricultural liaison for the DNR, expected that the rest of the acres will be down around the end of October.

“They’re really just waiting for that last rain we had to develop a little more forage,” Boeckman said. “I think they’re waiting for that perfect opportunity for all the cool-season grasses, which are likely to come through in the next month or so.”

Farmers are also seeding cover crops to manage the feed situation. The Soil & Water Conservation Program listed roughly 170,000 acres being plants with a cover crop specifically designated for drought assistance.

But rain is the most important factor at this point, according to officials.

The committee is planning on continuing the programs they currently have going and meeting again at the beginning of the new calendar year.