Drought worsens as crops weaken in Illinois and much of U.S.
BY EMILY MORRIS Staff Reporter July 16, 2012 7:24PM
Corn stalks struggling from lack of rain and a heat wave covering most of the country are seen Monday, July 16, 2012 in Farmingdale, Ill. The nation's widest drought in decades is spreading. More than half of the continental U.S. is now in some stage of drought, and most of the rest is abnormally dry. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Updated: August 18, 2012 6:26AM
The ferociously hot, dry summer is killing crops here and across the Midwest, government reports showed Monday. And the forecast calls for more hot, dry weather the next two weeks.
All of Illinois and more than half of the continental United States now faces drought conditions, according to information released Monday by the National Climatic Data Center. The percentage of land affected is the largest since 1956, when about 58 percent of the country was affected by drought.
Three-quarters of Illinois is suffering from a persistent severe drought, and farmers watched their crops deteriorate even further last week.
“All the crops in Illinois [are] really struggling,” said Shawn McCambridge, a Chicago grains analyst for Jefferies Bache.
On Monday, the U.S. Agriculture Department rated 56 percent of Illinois corn in “poor” and “very poor” condition, compared with 48 percent the week before. Only 11 percent of the state’s corn crop is in “good” and “excellent” condition — compared with 19 percent the week before.
Across the state, soybeans are faring somewhat better than corn: 41 percent of the crop is rated poor and very poor while 17 percent rated good and excellent.
The widespread drought and expectations that it will cut this year’s crop drove a rally for corn and soybeans Monday.
Corn futures for December delivery rose 32.25 cents to $7.725 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, while soybean futures for November rose 38 cents to $15.905 a bushel at close.
For months, areas in southern Illinois have experienced high temperatures and little rain, while northern areas, including Chicago, haven’t fared much better, analysts said.
Forecasts for the next two weeks project that the dry weather and only occasional precipitation will continue throughout the state, which would put additional stress on a corn crop that some say is beyond saving and on a soybean crop that badly needs rain, and soon.
Bill McNeal, who grows corn and soybeans on about 500 acres in Lake County, said he estimates he’ll lose 50 percent of his corn this year.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a crop this bad,” McNeal said, even as he recalled the record drought Illinois faced in 1988.
McNeal estimated that at least 20 percent of his soybean crop would be lost, though he’s holding out hope that the state will get some rain and the remainder of his crop can be saved.
Last week’s rains were few and far between, with the state averaging half an inch of rain, with some areas getting little or no precipitation, said Jim Angel, a climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois.
The state’s crops need to get at least 6 inches of rain over the next two weeks to survive.
“That’s a long shot at this stage of the game,” he said.
McCambridge expects that if the weather forecasts for the next two weeks hold, there will be additional decline in crop ratings and in production throughout the state, including the northern regions.
Nationally, northern corn belt areas such as Iowa and Nebraska, which had previously fared a little better and had decent production potential, are now starting to catch up to Illinois’ level of deterioration, McCambridge said.
“This is one of those what I would call exceptional years in which you have these conditions across widespread areas of the country,” he said.