The drought and heat gripping much of the United States this summer continue to worsen. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 50.3 percent of all counties in the U.S. — 1,584 across 32 states — are now under disaster designations, with 90 percent due to drought.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“The drought has intensified in the most parched areas of the country, with more than a fifth of the contiguous United States experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, according to numbers released Thursday morning by the National Drought Mitigation Center.
“Just three weeks ago, the portion of the lower 48 states receiving those two most serious drought designations stood at 11.6 percent. That area has now doubled, to 22.3 percent. The jump in the past week from 20.6 percent represents an increase of about 32 million acres.””
The drought has taken a toll on the nation’s corn crops. According to the National Corn Growers Association’s Larry Fields, more than three quarters of the corn belt is being impacted by the drought.
“What I’m seeing here is a total crop failure,” farmer Larry Hasheider has seen much of his corn crop wither and die this summer. The drought is “like being sucker punched in the stomach,” said Hasheider in a video interview with AFP. Fortunately for Hasheider, some of his crop is irrigated and that portion is doing fine. However, only about 15 percent of the nation’s corn crop is irrigated, the rest is at the mercy of the rains.
In June, 3,282 daily heat records in the US were broken. In July, another 4,414 heat records fell, baking much of the U.S. corn belt in triple digit heat.
Farmers are now being forced to cut down their stunted plants for sale as animal feed, a product that will be in great demand because of smaller-than-projected corn and soy yields. With corn and soy bean prices at or near record highs, prices for livestock feed are rising as well. Those additional costs for farmers will be passed on to the consumer, most likely in meat, dairy and eggs. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the price of those three commodities will rise between 3% and 4% over the next year in grocery stores nation-wide.
The Earth has warmed only slightly more than 1°F since the Dust Bowl — and we are set to warm between 9-11°F this century if we stay anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions path. By continuing our business-as-usual behavior, experts warn that permanent dust bowl conditions could grip much of the Southwest and Great Plains.
– Max Frankel