Summer 2012 has been a season of severe drought across the continental United States. More than half of all U.S. counties have been designated
The drought has caused shortages of grass, hay and water in much of the Southwest, forcing ranchers to thin their herds or risk losing their cattle to the drought. The past nine months have been the driest in Texas since record keeping began in 1895, with 75% of the state classified as in exceptional drought, the worst level.
Indiana is among many Midwestern states experiencing the worst drought in five decades. Corn production across the country has been crippled by lack of rain. The U.S. Agriculture Department cut its projected U.S. corn production to 10.8 billion bushels in July, down 17 percent from its forecast a month earlier of nearly 13 billion bushels and 13 percent lower than last year. That be the lowest production since 2006.
The Illinois Farm Bureau reports that the state is experiencing the sixth driest year on record. According to the most recent Drought Monitor from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 81 percent of Illinois is in extreme or exceptional drought.
The U.S. is the world's leading exporter of corn, soybeans and wheat. The severe drought punishing the U.S.'s midsection has sent corn prices soaring, and recent expectations of worsened crop prospects in Russia because of dry weather sent world wheat prices up 19 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which keeps close tabs on volatile global prices. Spikes in the prices of staple foods have led to riots in some countries in recent years.
A July report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the lowest national cattle herd since 1973. Extended droughts across the Southwest have dried up riverbeds and watering ponds for livestock. Combined with soaring feed prices, ranchers across the country have been forced to cull their herds to save what animals they can.
Corn prices have risen by 23 percent this summer. The nation's Midwestern states are producing less corn, and what they are harvesting shows clear signs of drought. The USDA reports that exactly half of the nation's corn crop was rated poor to very poor, creeping closer to the peak of 53 percent of 24 years ago.
Reports were optimistic at the beginning of 2012, with farmers looking forward to a bumper crop of corn. Corn farmers expected this to be a record year when they planted, sowing 96.4 million acres
Extreme drought has dried out riverbeds across the country. America's largest river, the Mississippi, is 12 feet below average for this time of year. With no wet weather on the horizon, experts expect water levels to continue to fall until at least September. Many fear this drought could be as bad as 1988, when the river was so low it was closed to barge traffic.
Lack of rain has caused ranchers to burn through their livestock feed. Some are able to dip into their winter stockpiles, but many are forced to purchase feed in a volatile and soaring market. A bale of hay that in good times would go for $40 now costs $70.
A buoy used to help guide barges rests on the bank after the water level dropped on the Mississippi River, July 18, 2012, near Wyatt, Missouri. Some barge operators have lightened their loads or stopped running altogether on the lower Mississippi because of low water levels.