Extreme drought spreads in U.S.
ST. LOUIS — Extreme drought conditions have spread in several U.S. Midwest states, the country’s latest report showed Thursday, as corn and soybean crops wither and food prices rise in the worst dry spell in decades.
Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states — not including Alaska and Hawaii — is experiencing some drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. More than half of all U.S. counties have been declared natural disaster areas.
Congress was hurrying on a disaster relief package for livestock producers before its monthlong recess. Feed prices are soaring, and producers don’t have many farmers’ benefit of crop insurance.
The price of corn — the U.S. leads the world in corn production — has risen 50 per cent since June because of the drought, said Rep. Virginia Foxx. But some anti-tax groups see the disaster relief as another government bailout, and it was unlikely to receive Senate consideration before Congress adjourns.
The new drought survey, based on conditions as of Tuesday morning, found that the country’s area experiencing extreme drought — the second highest classification behind exceptional drought — rose nearly 2 percentage points from the previous week, to 22.3 per cent. This was due largely to a worsening of conditions in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The area facing exceptional drought also increased, from 2.38 per cent to about 3 per cent.
Recent rains still won’t be sufficient to salvage parched crops, National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist Brian Fuchs said.
The precipitation “probably held off the intensification for a week or so. But the heat is going kick back in, and we’re going be in the same situation,” Fuchs said.
As of this week, nearly half of the nation’s corn crop was rated poor to very poor, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. About 37 per cent of the U.S. soybeans were lumped into that category. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. cattle acreage is in drought-affected areas, the survey showed.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Agriculture Department added 218 counties from 12 drought-stricken states to its list of natural disaster areas, bringing the overall total to 1,584 counties in 32 states. The vast majority received the designation because of drought
The distinction makes farmers and ranchers eligible for federal aid that includes low-interest emergency loans.
“In addition to the large geographic footprint of this year’s drought, the quick onset and rapid ramping up of intensity, coupled with extreme temperatures and subsequent impacts, has really left an imprint on those affected and has set this drought apart from anything we have seen at this scale over the past several decades,” wrote Mark Svoboda with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
The potential financial fallout appears to be intensifying. The latest Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released Wednesday, showed that the drought and global economic turmoil is hurting business in nine Midwest states, boosting worries about the prospect of another recession.
Ranchers say the extreme conditions have devastated hay supplies and pastureland. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday that some 3.8 million acres of conservation land would be opened for emergency haying and grazing.