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The grip of drought across the Corn Belt continues to tighten as recent data reveals an alarming increase in affected areas. Last week, 34% of the US corn crop was engulfed in drought, but within a week, that figure surged to 45%. The latest ratings from the US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) confirm that crop conditions are deteriorating due to the escalating dryness.

The expansion of drought conditions is not limited to corn alone; soybeans are also being severely impacted. According to the USDA and the National Drought Mitigation Center, 39% of the US soybean crop is now suffering from drought, reflecting an 11-point jump in just one week.

The most recent update from the US Drought Monitor shows that 54% of the continental US is experiencing D0-D4 conditions, ranging from exceptionally dry to exceptionally severe drought. However, there is a slight silver lining as the area classified as experiencing exceptional drought, the highest rating, saw a marginal decline.

Nationally, the USDA-NASS reports a five-percentage-point drop in crop condition ratings. Notably, the eastern Corn Belt states have witnessed the most significant decline in conditions. Illinois, in particular, experienced a staggering 19-percentage-point drop in its good-to-excellent rating for corn. Other states also witnessed noticeable declines:

  • Illinois: 50% good to excellent compared to 69% last week
  • Indiana: 62% good to excellent compared to 72% last week
  • Ohio: 74% good to excellent compared to 81% last week
  • Missouri: 46% good to excellent compared to 55% last week

As the drought continues to spread eastward, the USDA-NASS attributes the substantial drop in ratings to the lack of recent rainfall, as consistently reported by crop reporters across the eastern Corn Belt. Lance Honig, the crops branch chief for USDA-NASS, draws a historical comparison, highlighting that the drop in ratings aligns closely with a similar decline observed just two years ago.

Honig stresses that early-season crop condition ratings typically do not correlate with the final yield. However, monitoring the trend of changes in crop conditions over time is crucial throughout the season. He emphasizes the importance of consistent and subjective reports from the same reporters, allowing for accurate comparisons. Understanding that the current good-to-excellent rating of 64% for the corn crop is five points lower than the previous week and lower than the ratings during the same period in the past three seasons provides perspective.

While some parts of the Plains are benefiting from improved drought conditions due to heavy rainfall, the Midwest and western portions of the Northeast have experienced widespread degradation of conditions. These regions have been affected by both dryness and warm weather.

Although wet weather has posed challenges for cotton planting in Texas, it has benefited cotton already in the ground. USDA-NASS reports that over half of the US cotton crop is rated good to excellent, marking the best start to the crop in at least the past five years.

In other news, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared the arrival of El Niño. This declaration is based on warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator. However, USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey clarifies that the recent heavy rainfall in Texas is not directly caused by El Niño. NOAA expects El Niño to have a weak influence on the US during the summer but anticipates a more pronounced impact from late fall through spring. By winter, NOAA predicts an 84% chance of at least a moderate-strength El Niño and a 56% chance of a strong El Niño developing.