Drought Worsens For Several Farming States Despite Cooling Temperatures
August 24, 2012

Drought Worsens For Several Farming States Despite Cooling Temperatures

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

While cooler temperatures and rainfall have eased drought conditions in some areas around the country, many farming states continue to feel the pinch of the worst US dry spell to hit in more than fifty years. A new drought report released Thursday details the current conditions across the country, with severe to exceptional drought still occurring in much of the Midwest.

The US Drought Monitor´s weekly map showed that as of August 23, two-thirds of Iowa, the nation´s largest corn producer, was still in extreme or exceptional drought -- the two worst classifications on the five-point scale. The conditions in Iowa have increased by more than 5 percent in just the last week, to 67.5 percent drought conditions.

“There has been some improvement, at least in the eastern corn belt. And for the region as a whole we've seen a respite from the high temperatures,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center, told Reuters in a statement.

However, he said, the forecast for the next few weeks showed a return of harsh conditions. “It's unfortunately looking like a return to above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation,” he added. “It's not enough to start thinking this drought is going to be over anytime soon.”

Besides Iowa, nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are still in extreme or exceptional drought. Colorado, Okalahoma and Arkansas are also experiencing extreme to exceptional drought conditions over much of their respective territories.

Improvement has been seen though, in some parts of the country. In the states suffering from at least “severe” drought, the percentage fell from 45.54 percent to 44.03 percent over the past week, according to the drought map, which is based on a consensus of federal and academic scientists. Indiana had the most notable improvement in the past week, with extreme drought levels dropping from 46.3 percent to 37.09 percent; exceptional drought conditions dropped from 16.63 percent to 10.77 percent. Levels improved in Indiana due to rainfall that swept through parts of the state, dumping at least five inches of rain in some areas.

Drought Monitor contributor Mike Brewer, with the National Climatic Data Center, said conditions cooled in the region, but little to no meaningful rain fell over much of the country.

Persistent high heat and lack of rainfall have devastated the US corn industry, and has also threatened soybean crops. The weekly report stated that last week drought affected slightly less of the agricultural land in the country, affecting 85 percent of corn crops, 83 percent of soybeans, 63 percent of hay, and 71 percent of cattle land. Nearly 50 percent of the corn area was experiencing extreme to exceptional drought, a large portion of that which exists in Iowa.

Farmers have already begun harvesting what corn managed to survive the summer drought, and in some areas, farmers already harvested corn weeks ago, calling this year a loss in the corn production market. Ranchers have also been forced to liquidate their livestock because there has been no grass for grazing or money to buy feed, which has soared in cost due to this year´s intolerable cruelty.

The persistent drought has been also led to increased wildfires which have burned through thousands of acres, and waterways have become unusable in several areas. Water levels on the Mississippi River have dropped to their lowest levels in decades, and in just the past week, the continued drop in water levels have caused barges to run aground, slowing the deliverance of grains and other goods to farms and markets.

Climate experts predict rain to fall in the Northern Plains in the next few days, although it may be too late to save the region´s crops.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has twice slashed the forecast for this year´s corn and soybean output due to drought. This past spring, it forecast the nation´s biggest harvest ever, after farmers planted a record 96.4 million acres of corn. The agency made its first estimate cut early this summer when drought conditions started cropping up throughout the Midwest. And after the second forecast slash, the USDA said it expects the nation to only produce 10.8 billion bushels of corn, the lowest amount since 2006.

If that estimate holds, the government said it will still be enough to meet the world´s needs and should ensure there are no shortages. But still, experts said food prices will almost certainly climb due to this year´s severe to exceptional drought, which have put a immense strain on the crop, which is relied on for the production of everything from cereal to cosmetics.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map is released weekly by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.