Drought affected 87 percent of U.S. corn, 85 percent of soybeans, 63 percent of hay and 72 percent of cattle through last week, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
The drought in the lower 48 states eased last week to 61.8 percent from 62.5 percent, with improvement in all categories of dryness except for the worst, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported.
The most severe level of drought, called exceptional, expanded to 6.3 percent of the contiguous U.S. from 4.2 percent the previous period. The monitor’s report is for the week ended Aug. 14.
“The U.S. Drought Monitor week saw a few notable improvements and some serious degradation,” Michael Brewer of the data center in Asheville, North Carolina, wrote in an analysis. “One storm dumped much-needed rain through the Midwest, improving drought conditions there from Iowa through Ohio. Other areas, such as the Southern and Central Plains, were not as lucky and continued to dry out.”
The two worst categories of drought cover more than half of corn and soybean growing areas, he said.
Corn is the biggest U.S. crop, valued at $76.5 billion in 2011, followed by soybeans at $35.8 billion, government data show. Wheat is the fourth-largest at $14.4 billion, behind hay.
For the coming week, most of the Midwest and northern Great Plains are expected to have normal or below-normal rainfall, Brewer said.
There may be some improvement to drought conditions across the northern Midwest from Minnesota and parts of Iowa east to Ohio, according to the Seasonal Drought Outlook projecting conditions through November 30. The outlook was released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during a conference call with reporters.
The outlook predicts the drought will persist through much of the central Great Plains to Texas, including Nebraska, southern Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.
“Things are no longer going downhill as fast as they were,” said Ed O’Lenic, seasonal forecaster with the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland.
Time is running out to salvage this year’s corn crop. In a week or two, corn will beyond the point where any additional rain will be able to help or undo damage from the drought, said Jim Angel, the Illinois state climatologist.
“Soybeans have another two or three weeks when they could benefit from cooler temperatures and rainfall,” Angel said on the conference call.
Winter wheat crops will need rain in September and October to recharge moisture levels in the top few inches of soil so that the seeds can germinate, he said.
In the U.S. as a whole, including Puerto Rico, some category of drought covered 51.7 percent of the land as of Aug. 14, an improvement from last week’s figure of 52.3 percent, according to the Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The amount of land suffering under the worst category increased to 5.2 percent from 3.5 percent last week.
Yesterday, the Palmer Drought Index reported drought covered 57.2 percent of the contiguous 48 states in July, the worst since December 1956, when 57.6 percent of the country was dry. The Palmer records, which date to 1895, are used to make comparisons to drought years before 2000.
The Drought Monitor is a partnership including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Agriculture Department.