January 24, 2013 / 5:06 PM / in 5 years

U.S. drought expands in top wheat-growing state of Kansas

By Carey Gillam
    Jan 24 (Reuters) - Crop-killing drought deepened in Kansas
over the last week, further jeopardizing this season's
production of winter wheat, a key U.S. crop.
    Kansas is generally the top U.S. wheat-growing state, but
the new crop planted last fall has been struggling with a lack
of soil moisture. Without rain and/or heavy snow before spring,
millions of acres of wheat could be ruined.
    But a new climatology report issued Thursday showed no signs
of improvement for Kansas, or neighboring farm states. Instead,
drought was holding tight or growing worse in that region,
according to the Drought Monitor report issued Thursday by a
consortium of federal and state climatology experts.
    Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in
at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 22, an improvement from
58.87 percent a week earlier, according to the Drought Monitor.
But the worst level of drought, dubbed "exceptional," expanded
slightly to 6.36 percent, up from 6.31 percent of the country.
    The worst-hit area is the High Plains. Severe drought
blanketed 87.25 percent of the High Plains, unchanged from the
week before, but extreme drought grew to 61.30 percent, up from
61.27 percent, and exceptional drought expanded to 27.02
percent, up from 26.81 percent the prior week.  
    Fully 100 percent of the land area in Kansas, Colorado, 
Nebraska and Oklahoma remained engulfed in severe drought or
worse, according to the Drought Monitor. 
    Kansas saw a marked increase in the spread of the worst
levels of drought over the last week, the report said. The level
of extreme drought grew to 79.53 percent from 79.34 percent, and
exceptional drought grew to 36.14 percent, up from 34.87
   "Kansas kind of bucked the overall trend, cause other areas
saw some improvement," said Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist.
"The biggest concern is the hard red winter wheat crop."
    Kansas typically makes up nearly 20 percent of the total
U.S. wheat production with a production value that hovers around
$1 billion. 
    But many farmers worry this year that a severe shortage of
soil moisture will decimate production. 
    The southern portion of the Plains has been getting some
moisture, while the north has seen some periodic snow, but
little moisture has been noted in the Plains lately, said
    Some moisture is forecast to move through southern parts of
the Plains, into possibly Kansas or even Nebraska for this
weekend, Rippey said. 
    "Kind of a quick shot, but there is some hope to buy a
little more time for some of that wheat," he said. 

 (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City;editing by Sofina
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