Drought worsens in Plains, despite cooler temps

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — While other corn growers already have knocked down their drought-ravaged crops to feed them to livestock, Nebraska farmer Doug Nelson still waits for his maize to mature, well aware it won’t be a banner year.

On the day a new report suggested the nation’s worst dry spell in at least a generation is deepening in America’s breadbasket, Nelson said Thursday he expects to harvest anywhere from nothing to 43 bushels per acre on his unirrigated acreage, a far cry from the 120 to 140 bushels he’d typically get. On the irrigated land, he could see 150 to 200 bushels an acre; in previous years, Nelson would see a minimum of 180 bushels.

“For the most part, we haven’t seen a hit like this since 1974, as far as my career goes,” said the 61-year-old Nelson.

That’s part of the growing frustration with an increasing drought in Nebraska and several other farming states, despite recently cooler temperatures that have, at the very least, given people a break from this summer’s stifling heat.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s weekly map showed that, as of Tuesday, just over two-thirds of Iowa, the nation’s biggest corn producer, was in extreme or exceptional drought — the worst two classifications. That’s up more than 5 percentage points, to 67.5 percent, from the previous week.

Nearly all of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois are in extreme or exceptional drought, with Illinois showing the most dramatic climb, spiking 17 percentage points in one week to 96.72 percent, according to the map.

Conditions cooled recently in the region, but little or no meaningful rain has fallen.

Plains farmers have begun harvesting what corn managed to survive, although many growers cut their fields weeks ago, chalking the year up as a loss. Some ranchers have sold livestock because they had no grass for grazing or money to buy feed, the price of which has soared.

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