United States Drought Monitor Released, Bad News For Agriculture
July 6, 2012

United States Drought Monitor Released, Bad News For Agriculture

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Wave after wave of heat has baked almost half the United States into some form of drought, according to data released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The economic impact is still impossible to know, but officials and stakeholders are expecting a significant impact of the nation´s agricultural output.

Analysis of the UNL data revealed that a record 46.8 percent of the nation's land area is considered to be in various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent last week. Previous records were 45.9 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.6 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

As bad as these statistics look, the numbers are even worse when the data for Alaska and Hawaii are removed. In the 48 contiguous states, almost 56 percent of the country's land area is in moderate drought or worse — also a record high, officials said. They noted that previous highs had been 54.8 percent on Aug. 26, 2003, and 54.6 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

"The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale," said Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the university in a statement.

"Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we've previously experienced in the (12-year) history of the Drought Monitor."

The monitor ranks sections of the country based on a scale: D0 (abnormal dryness), D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

At the lower end of the scale, conditions involve some damage to crops and pastures, and low water levels in streams or reservoirs. Exceptional drought conditions include widespread crop and pasture losses and water shortages that lead to water emergencies. Currently, 8.6 percent of the country would be considered in a state of extreme or exceptional drought.

The United States has historically experienced several serious droughts, including one that created the infamous Dust Bowl that accompanied the Great Depression. Periods of drought have typically cost the agricultural industry and the country bushels of money. Between 1980 and today, 16 drought events cost $210 billion, according to a recent report.

Currently, drought conditions in the U.S. have pushed up corn prices 28 percent since June 15. Matthew Rosencrans, a drought specialist with the National Weather Service, said last week that the existing drought may rival a dry period in 1988 that cost agriculture $78 billion.

While the drought will affect American consumers, countries around the world are bracing for a drop in U.S. grain exports. Some are expecting the European Union in pick up the slack. France´s wheat crop is projected to produce 35.2 million tons of wheat this season, which is 1.1 million tons more than estimated in March. In addition, officials expect a robust wheat production from German farmers. However, Spain´s crop is expected to worsen due to the drought that started this spring, adding to that country´s economic woes.

“U.S. wheat is going to be priced out of export bids,” Nick Higgins, a commodities analyst at Rabobank International in London told Businessweek.com. “The EU is going to have to pick up more of the export burden.”