Monday, July 30, 2012

Image: Virginia corn farmer Billy Bain
Patrick Kane  /  AP
Billy Bain walks by dry, short stalks of corn on his farm in Dinwiddie County, Va., on Friday,
NBC News and news services
updated 1 hour 5 minutes ago
American corn and soybean crops are in their worst condition in more than two decades, and hot and dry weather is expected to bake much of America’s farmland for the next couple of weeks.
A new report released Monday by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows 48 percent of corn in 18 states along the Midwest, Southwest and Tennessee Valley regions are in “very poor” or “poor” condition. This is up from 45 percent last week and 14 percent last year.
The condition of soybeans is not much better, with 37 percent of soybean crops in “very poor” or “poor” condition — up from 35 percent last week and 12 percent last year.
Pasture and range lands throughout the contiguous U.S. is also in tough shape — nearly 60 percent is ranked as “very poor” or “poor.” This is up from 55 percent last week and 36 percent last year.
Very poor suggests an “extreme degree of loss to yield potential, complete or near crop failure” and pastures providing “very little or no feed considering the time of year,” USDA said on its website. Poor, meanwhile, is defined as a “heavy degree of loss to yield potential” in crops, and “providing only marginal feed for the current time of year” in pastures.
Crumbling corn and soybean conditions haven’t been this bad since the last U.S. drought of 1988, raising worries about whether the U.S. will be able to meet the needs of food processors, livestock producers and ethanol makers. The lack of rain was also drying up waterways and slowing river shipments of commodities to export ports on the Gulf of Mexico.
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But the extreme hot and dry conditions are not expected to break anytime soon.
"It looks like a continued trend of below-average precipitation in the Midwest for the next week to 10 days," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.
Temperatures this week will warm into the upper 80s to low 90s degrees Fahrenheit, with only a few light showers in the east on Monday and some rainfall later in the week, he said.
"There are no widespread soaking rains in sight. Thursday and Friday there could be scattered showers, and by the weekend from 0.30 to 0.80 inch with coverage of about 75 to 80 percent," Dee said. "There won't be as much stress as recently, but crops will continue to deteriorate."
There were mixed signals for the weather early next week, with some weather models showing some rain but others indicating that the dryness would continue.
Rains brought some relief from drought in the northern and eastern Midwest, but overall crops will continue to suffer from the worst drought in more than 50 years, especially in the central and southern Corn Belt.
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Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Monday said recent rains had scaled down the driest areas to about 40 percent of the Midwest soybeans for much of this week.
But "the return of drier conditions to the central and southwestern belt will allow concerns to quickly return to at least half of the belt," CWG said.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures were up more than 20 cents per bushel, or 2.69 percent, and soybeans up 35 cents, or 2 percent, on Monday as investors bought on fears of a crop shortfall in the U.S. this year.
Reuters contributed to this report

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