The dry conditions aren’t confined to Middle America: for the first time since early April, more than half of the country is now in some stage of drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. That includes much of the West, where the hot, dry weather has fueled wildfires.
Drought conditions surged in the past week in corn-producing states, up to 45 percent of the region from 25 percent the week before, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Soybeans in drought also increased sharply in the last week to 38 percent from 16 percent, he said.
In northwest Kansas, farmer Brian Baalman watched the temperature reach 94 degrees on his truck thermometer Wednesday.
He farms about 30 miles west of Colby, where corn plants are turning white and ears are drooping as the heat kills the corn that’s not irrigated.
“We are basically back to where we (were) in the moisture situation before the rain came, you know,” he said. “Go west of me and it is a lot different, drier yet, and folks are worse off than we are,” he said.
Lack of rain has caused drought conditions to expand in most of Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with eastern Illinois, western Indiana and northern Michigan, and parts of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, according to the drought report.
Rain eased drought in portions of northern Nebraska, though much of the western half of the state remains in extreme drought. The report also shows that abnormally dry conditions, one stage below drought, expanded in eastern Iowa and South Dakota.
All of those states grow either corn or soybeans, or both.
In western Wisconsin, where farmers have been waiting weeks for rain, grazing usually provides about half of the food that the 550 dairy cows consume in the summer at Saxon Homestead Farm. But this year, the pastures are providing only about a third of what’s needed, and farmer Karl Klessig and his family have already dipped into their winter food supply.