Worst Drought Covers Nearly One-Fourth of Contiguous U.S.

Photographer: by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A farmer looks over a dried up pond on a pasture he uses to raise cattle, August 3, 2012 near Cuba, Illinois. Farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere continue to struggle after than half the counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas, mostly due to drought. Close

A farmer looks over a dried up pond on a pasture he uses to raise cattle, August 3,... Read More

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Photographer: by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A farmer looks over a dried up pond on a pasture he uses to raise cattle, August 3, 2012 near Cuba, Illinois. Farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere continue to struggle after than half the counties in the United States have been designated disaster areas, mostly due to drought.

The two worst levels of drought now grip nearly one-fourth of the lower 48 states, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported.

About 24.1 percent of the region was suffering extreme or exceptional drought in the week ended Aug. 7, up from 22.3 percent in the previous period and 18.3 percent last year, according to the monitor, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While there has been some improvement in the drought in the Midwest, that wasn’t the case in the Great Plains, said Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln.

“Maybe the drought overall is improving but the areas hardest hit in the corn and bean belt have intensified,” Svoboda said by telephone.

The drought has helped push corn prices to a record. World food prices have surged 6.2 percent as dryness has also gripped Russia and below-average monsoon rains fell in India.

The primary corn and soybean agriculture areas in the U.S. had their sixth-driest April-July growing season in records dating back to 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said yesterday.

Svoboda said the amount of corn-growing area affected by the two worst categories of drought has jumped to 53 percent from 14 percent in the past three weeks. For beans, it has increased to 50 percent from 16.

Livestock Impact

In addition, 37 percent of the main livestock-producing area is now covered by the two most-severe drought levels, Svoboda said. Farmers and ranchers who can’t get feed at home also can’t find it nearby because the drought is so widespread, he said.

“Range, pasture and forage land has just been battered,” Svoboda said. “This is something that we haven’t seen, save for a couple of times, in the last hundred years.”

The Drought Monitor, a partnership with NOAA, the mitigation center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Agriculture Department, surveys dryness and categorizes drought in four levels, from moderate to exceptional.

Drought considered moderate or worse decreased slightly in the latest reporting period to about 62.5 percent of the lower 48 states, compared with 62.9 percent in the prior week and 32.3 percent last year, according to the monitor.

Svoboda said the improvement was in fringe areas.

U.S. Total

In the U.S. as a whole, including Puerto Rico, drought now covers 52.3 percent of the land, down from 52.7 percent in the previous week. A year ago, 27.1 percent of the U.S. and Puerto Rico was affected by drought.

Some dryness affects 70.2 percent of the U.S. and 78.1 percent of the contiguous 48 states.

Svoboda said the northern Plains have a chance for above- normal rain next week, while the southern Plains and the lower Midwest may see more dry conditions.

The U.S. is entering the time of year when the amount of rainfall naturally begins to decline, Svoboda said.

“I don’t see a real drastic change in the situation unless you are in the South and get a tropical system,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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