* Drought covers 97 percent of High Plains
* Becomes more severe in South
* Rains inadequate
(Adds graphic, details on crops, grain prices, analyst quote)
By Michael Hirtzer
July 26 The most extensive U.S. drought in five
decades intensified this week across the Midwest and Plains
states that produce most of the country's corn, soybeans and
livestock, a report from climate experts showed on Thursday.
And the drought is worsening in the South, which was just
recovering from last year's drought - the worst Texas had seen
in a century.
Almost 30 percent of the nine-state Midwest was suffering
extreme drought, nearly triple from the previous week, according
to the U.S. Drought Monitor for the week ending July 24.
Conditions in the Midwest, which produces roughly
three-quarters of the corn and soybean crops in the world's
largest producer and exporter, worsened despite the first
measurable rainfall in a month in some areas.
More than 53 percent of the United States and Puerto Rico
are in moderate drought or worse, a record-large amount for the
fourth straight week in the Drought Monitor's 12-year history.
"The two-plus inches (of rain) from southern Wisconsin to
northern Indiana was able to only maintain status quo. Most
other areas were not as lucky," said Drought Monitor author
Richard Heim of the National Climatic Data Center.
"Pasture, rangeland, and crop condition continued to
deteriorate from the Colorado High Plains to the Ohio- and
mid-Mississippi valleys, and from Oklahoma to the Dakotas," he
More than half of the country's pastures have been rated
poor or very poor by the U.S. Agriculture Department, while the
corn and soybean crops have wilted under scorching temperatures
during their more vulnerable periods of pollination.
In the South, extreme and exceptional drought conditions
increased in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, even as the overall
area in the region affected decreased slighty.
A Reuters poll this week estimated the U.S. corn yield at
130.8 bushels per acre, the lowest in 10 years.
"For a lot of the hardest hit areas, it's too late to
reverse the damage on corn. We had a lot of stress ahead of
silking and into pollination, and that's the worst time we could
have that stress," said Jefferies Bache grains analyst Shawn
The parched conditions propelled corn and soybean futures to
record peaks last week at the Chicago Board of Trade before
scattered rains this week took prices off their highs.
Surging animal feed prices -- the biggest input costs for
livestock producers -- also led some farmers to cull their herds
in the main cattle producing region of the Plains.
Light showers overnight in the southwestern Midwest were too
little too late to prevent further losses in the crops, while
heat of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher
was forecast to continue into next week, Andy Karst,
meteorologist for World Weather Inc, said Thursday.
(Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago, additional reporting
by Sam Nelson; Editing by John Picinich and Leslie Gevirtz)