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Published September 16, 2013, 09:58 AM

Drought worsens in Midwest, South

The combination of heat and scarce amounts of rain intensified the drought in several agriculturally significant states, contributing to declining crop conditions in parts of the Midwest and South.

By: David Pitt, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The combination of heat and scarce amounts of rain intensified the drought in several agriculturally significant states, contributing to declining crop conditions in parts of the Midwest and South.

Drought conditions in the Upper Midwest, meanwhile, held steady.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the expected record corn harvest and third-largest soybean crop are on track, since areas that aren’t seeing as severe a drought will produce enough to make up for the driest regions.

Crops in Kentucky and Tennessee look better than they did a month ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor, while Iowa and Missouri are suffering from the heat.

“The fringes of the corn belt are producing enough to offset Iowa’s loss,” says Chad Hart, agriculture economist at Iowa State University.

Conditions worsened a bit in Minnesota, with 51.5 percent of the state abnormally dry or in drought. A week earlier, 48.5 percent of Minnesota was abnormally dry or in drought.

In South Dakota, conditions improved marginally, with 57.9 percent of the state abnormally dry or in drought. A week earlier, 58.3 percent of South Dakota was abnormally dry or in drought.

Forty-six percent of North Dakota was abnormally dry in or drought, the same rate as a week earlier.

Montana’s numbers also were unchanged, with 42.4 percent of the state abnormally dry in drought, the same rate as a week earlier.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is a partnership of government and academic scientists. Its weekly reports measure “broad-scale conditions,” not short-term growing conditions.

Last week’s drought monitor, which tracked conditions from Sept. 3 to Sept. 10, shows nearly 50.7 percent of the contiguous U.S. is now in moderate drought or worse, up from just over 50 percent the week before.

The report says in Iowa, the nation’s largest corn producer, severe drought spread to nearly 42 percent of the state — up from 32 percent a week ago. All but two of the state’s counties, both in east-central Iowa, are experiencing some level of drought or abnormally dry conditions.

The trend was driven in part by unusually hot temperatures. In the Midwest, temperatures were as much as 10 degrees above normal and rainfall for many areas was sparse or nonexistent.

La Crosse, Wis., for example, has received only 2.4 inches of rain between July 1 and Sept. 10 — the driest on record, says Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The city’s previous record was 2.52 inches in 1948.

Drought worsened in portions of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin. Further south, conditions in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas declined. And more than three-quarters of the western U.S. remains in moderate drought or worse.

USDA says about a third of corn and soybeans are in good or excellent condition in Iowa, down from more than half rated in those categories a month ago. In Nebraska, where drought increased in some areas, nonirrigated corn is in similar shape.

But USDA says corn production nationally is expected to be 13.8 billion, a record for the country. The corn yield, or amount produced per acre, is expected to be 155.3 bushels per acre, which would be the highest average yield since 2009.

Higher corn yields for the Central Plains and across the South more than offset reductions for Iowa and North Dakota, the report says.

Farmers are expected to harvest 3.15 billion bushels of soybeans, the fourth largest on record.