* Drought covers 86 pct of Midwest
* And 97 pct of High Plains
* Crops and pastures wilt under scorching sun
By Michael Hirtzer
July 26 The most extensive drought in five decades intensified
this week across the U.S. Midwest and Plains states that produce most of the
county's corn, soybeans and livestock, a report from climate experts showed on
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 2-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 said.
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
A Reuters poll this week estimated the U.S. corn yield at 130.8 bushels per
acre, the lowest in 10 years.
"This drought is two-pronged," Fuchs said. "Not only the dryness but the
heat is playing a big and important role. Even areas that have picked up rain
are still suffering because of the heat."
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.
> Top 10 US corn and soybean producing states
(Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago, additional reporting by Sam Nelson in
Chicago; Editing by John Picinich)