Midwestern drought worsens

Published 9:52 am Friday, September 6, 2013

DES MOINES — Drought conditions have worsened across parts of the Midwest in the last week, including in the nation’s leading corn-producing state as Iowa cooked in record-breaking temperatures that topped 100 degrees.

Farmers in Iowa and other neighboring states are now expecting this year’s drought to reduce the fall harvest for corn and soybeans, though the impact isn’t expected to be as bad as last year’s drought — the worst since the 1950s.

According to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday, about 98 percent of Iowa is in some level of drought. That’s down slightly from the week before, but the area of the state in severe drought expanded to 32 percent from 22 percent from the previous week.

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In the middle of Iowa’s severe drought region, Kyle Phillips is growing corn and soybeans on about 3,800 acres in central Iowa near Knoxville. The farmer expects his corn crop to be reduced by as much as 20 percent.

He said the corn was in good shape up until about three weeks ago, before the heat set in, and no significant rain has fallen in much of the area for nearly a month. Soybeans are a big worry now, he said. Plants are shorter than normal and haven’t had enough moisture to fully develop.

“The soybeans, I’m really worried about. They just haven’t had any rains on them all the time they were filling their pods,” he said. “It’s just going to be a waiting game to see where we’re at, but I’m not anticipating a good result.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 16 percent of corn and 15 percent of soybeans were rated in very poor to poor condition as of Sunday. But a year ago, near the height of the drought, very poor to poor ratings stood at 52 percent of the corn and 37 percent of the soybeans.

The weekly drought monitor released Thursday tracked conditions from Aug. 27 through Tuesday morning. It shows little change nationwide: Nearly 62 percent of the contiguous states are in drought, about the same as the week before.

But the portion of the U.S. corn production area in drought increased to 52 percent from 45 percent, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist at the USDA. Soybeans in drought also increased in the last week to 42 percent from 38 percent.

Hay in drought was unchanged at 39 percent, but cattle in drought increased one percentage point to 53 percent.

Out of the 97.4 million acres of corn planted this year, about 50 million acres — nearly 80,000 square miles — are in drought. About 77.2 million acres of soybeans have been planted and nearly 32 million acres, or more than 50,000 square miles, are affected by drought, Rippey said.

The extreme heat in the Midwest and near record-low August rainfall combined to expand drought conditions from the eastern Dakotas southeastward into western Illinois.

Iowa recorded its hottest week since July 2012, with highs topping 104 degrees in Des Moines and Fort Madison on Aug. 30. Statewide, August rainfall ranked seventh driest in 141 years of records, and followed the ninth driest July.

Many Iowa locations also set new August records for dryness. Keokuk and Mount Pleasant had no precipitation, Burlington and Fort Madison had just a trace.

Small areas of severe drought also showed up in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin this week. Drought also expanded or intensified in Mississippi and Oklahoma. No changes were made in Nebraska and Kansas, except for a small improvement in extreme sections of southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, southwest Iowa, and northwest Missouri, where some rain fell.

The drought monitor is produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the USDA and about 350 drought observers across the country. It rates the level of drought on a scale from abnormally dry to moderate drought, severe drought, extreme drought, and exceptional drought.


The local angle 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday, Freeborn, Faribault, Waseca and Steele counties remain in a moderate drought. The northwestern half of Mower County is, too, but the southeastern half is abnormally dry.

They gained that status in the Aug. 27 report, along with much of southern, western and central Minnesota.

In Iowa, Winnebago and Worth counties are listed as abnormally dry.

The St. Cloud area is in severe drought.