(Reuters) – The most expansive U.S. drought in more than a half century grew more dire in the farming states of the Midwest and High Plains this week, wilting corn and soybean crops and sapping already-damaged yield potential, climate experts said Thursday.
More than 70 percent of the nine-state Midwest was in some stage of drought in the week ended July 17, up from 63 percent the prior week, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly report on drought throughout the country compiled by climate experts.
Half of the Midwest, which produces about 75 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, was in severe to exceptional drought, up from about a third of the region a week earlier, the Drought Monitor reported.
“Another week of hot and dry weather continued the deterioration of crop conditions in America’s breadbasket,” said Richard Heim of the National Climatic Data Center.
Severe drought expanded to encompass nearly 59 percent of Iowa, the top corn and soybean state, up from about 13 percent the previous week.
Ninety-five percent of No. 2 corn and soy state Illinois was in severe drought or worse, up from about 66 percent a week ago.
Drought also tightened its grip on the High Plains, with 68 percent of the six-state region in severe drought or worse, up from 56 percent the prior week, the Drought Monitor showed.
Nearly 64 percent of Kansas was in extreme to exceptional drought as of Tuesday, up from 28 percent the previous week.
Conditions in Nebraska also worsened, with 75 percent of the state in severe drought or worse, up from 55 percent the week before.
Meteorologists are calling it the worst drought since 1956.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by John Picinich)