January 31, 2013 / 6:02 PM / 5 years ago

U.S. spring crop season jeopardized as drought persists

* Severe drought still grips 87 pct of High Plains
    * Worst January in at least 13 years
    * Nebraska the most drought-stricken state

    By Carey Gillam
    Jan 31 (Reuters) - The unrelenting drought gripping key
farming states in the U.S. Plains shows no signs of abating, and
it will take a deluge of snow or rain to restore critical
moisture to farmland before spring planting of new crops, a
climate expert said on Thursday.
    "It's not a pretty picture," said climatologist Mark Svoboda
of the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center. 
    Precipitation in the Plains region has been 3-6 inches shy
of normal levels since October, and some areas are nearly 16
inches short of much-needed moisture over the last nine months,
said Svoboda.
    The drought that last year ranked as the worst in roughly 50
years is still entrenched in the nation's mid-section. This
month was considered the worst January in terms of drought over
the 13 years that a consortium of federal and state climatology
experts have been monitoring drought levels and issuing regular
"Drought Monitor" reports, said Svoboda.
    "The January number is the highest amount of coverage for
the U.S. since we've been doing this," Svoboda said.
    Thursday's Drought Monitor report showed severe drought
still gripping 87.25 percent of the High Plains, unchanged from
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. 
    Nebraska remained the most drought-stricken state, with
96.28 percent in extreme drought - the second-worst level of
drought - and 77.46 percent in exceptional drought, considered
the most dire. 
    The Plains states are key crop production areas,
particularly for hard red winter wheat, an important
bread-making crop. And they are critical areas for cattle and
other livestock production. 
    Overall, 57.68 percent of the contiguous United States was
in at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 29, a slightly worse
situation than the previous week's tally of 57.64 percent.
Exceptional drought expanded slightly to 6.37 percent, up from
6.36 percent of the country.

 
   Millions of acres from South Dakota to Oklahoma and west into
Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and east into Missouri and
Arkansas, are short more than half of the normal moisture they
receive, said Svoboda.
    The dry conditions have been exacerbated by unseasonably
warm conditions in many areas.
    The U.S. winter wheat crop that was planted last fall is
struggling for survival now as a result, and will need
substantial moisture to emerge in the spring.
    Corn and soybeans crops, generally planting in April or
shortly after, will also need good soil moisture to get the
plants off to a healthy start before summer sets in. But there
are no signs of any significant weather pattern shifts to bring
about heavy precipitation, said Svoboda.
    "Instead of normal, we'd like to see 150 percent of normal,"
he said.

 (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by David
Gregorio)

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