WALTONVILLE, Ill. — The nation’s widest drought in decades is spreading, with more than half of the continental United States now in some stage of drought and most of the rest enduring abnormally dry conditions.
Only in the 1930s and the 1950s has a drought covered more land, according to federal figures released Monday. So far, there’s little risk of a Dust Bowl-type catastrophe, but crop losses could mount if rain doesn’t come soon.
In its monthly drought report, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., announced that 55 percent of the country was in a moderate to extreme drought at the end of June. The parched conditions expanded last month in the West, the Great Plains and the Midwest, fueled by the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record, the report said.
Topsoil has turned dry while “crops, pastures and rangeland have deteriorated at a rate rarely seen in the last 18 years,” the report said.
In southern Illinois, Kenny Brummer has lost 800 acres of corn that he grows to feed his 400 head of cattle and 30,000 hogs. Now he’s scrambling to find hundreds of thousands of bushels of replacement feed.
“Where am I going to get that from? You have concerns about it every morning when you wake up,” said Brummer, who farms near Waltonville. “The drought is bad, but that’s just half of the problem on this farm.”
t’s all a huge comedown for farmers who had expected a record year when they sowed 96.4 million acres in corn, the most since 1937. The Department of Agriculture initially predicted national average corn yields of 166 bushels per acre this year.
The agency has revised that projection down to 146, and more reductions are possible if conditions don’t improve.
The lower projection is still an improvement over the average yields of around 129 bushels a decade ago. But already tight supplies and fears that the drought will get worse before it gets better have been pushing up grain prices, which are likely to translate into higher food prices for consumers, particularly for meat and poultry.
During a visit Monday to a southern Illinois corn and soybean farm, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced that drought-affected farmers would be eligible for state debt restructuring and loan programs in addition to the aid the USDA announced last week.
Quinn ventured into a corn field where he spent some time looking for an actual ear of corn. When he found one and peeled off the husk, there were no kernels.
Two-thirds of Illinois is in what’s classified as a severe drought or worse. Neighboring Indiana is even worse, with 70 percent in at least a severe drought.