Harsh drought threatens key US crop states

A harsh drought has grown more severe across major parts of the U.S. farm belt, threatening recently planted corn, soybean and spring wheat crops in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Rains forecast for the northern Midwest and Great Plains may bring relief to some areas, but the severe moisture deficits suggest crop yields in key U.S. production areas remain at risk.

Drought has already scorched much of the U.S. West, prompting farmers in California to leave fields fallow and triggering water and energy rationing in several states. Crop production in the central U.S. is being closely monitored this year as grain and oilseed prices hover around the highest in a nearly a decade and as global supplies tighten.

About 41 per cent of Iowa, the nation’s top corn producer and No. 2 soybean state, was under severe drought, according to the weekly U.S. drought monitor. Montana, Nebraska, Minnesota and even northern Iowa would still be rain deficit, weather experts predict.

Conditions in North Dakota, the top producer of high-protein spring wheat that is used in bread and pizza dough, remained dire, with about two-thirds of the state under extreme or exceptional drought, the most severe categories.

October to April was the driest stretch in North Dakota history since record keeping began 127 years ago. More than 100,000 acres, or 156 square miles, of North Dakota have already burned in wildfires this year, up from about 12,000 for the entire fire season last year.

Drought in the western Corn Belt has already likely trimmed the U.S. corn yield average by 2 to 4 bushels per acre. However, conditions in July and August, critical months for corn and soybeans, respectively, will determine the extent of yield losses and the price response.

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