Drought eases in US farm belt but not over yet
With the farm belt's soil recharged by melted snow and spring rains, farmers in the north-central U.S. are anxious to start working the fields and planting seed for the 2013 crop season.
Above-average snow cover and a chilly, wet spring have helped restore moisture to many states burdened by last year's drought, which has eased large portions of Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Portions of drought-stricken Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska have seen some rain, but many counties remain woefully dry.
Early estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show farmers plan to plant 174.4 million acres (70.5 million hectares) in corn and soybeans this year, a record amount. In much of the farm belt, there's enough topsoil moisture to allow plants to emerge.
But the missing component is deep moisture, which farmers will have to rely on if the rain stops again.
The center's national weekly drought monitor report was released Thursday, April 11. It said the weather has likely recharged the top two inches (5 centimeters) of soil, which has made "moisture available to support planting and early emergence," but will take substantial continued rain to improve conditions further.
In Iowa, the leading U.S. corn producer, a warm first week of April allowed farmers to get equipment ready and start tilling and applying fertilizer. Corn planting should get under way within the next two weeks as fields warm up and dry out from recent rain.
Last year's planting season got off to a great start: Spring arrived early and farmers planted corn ahead of schedule. By June, however, the drought began to increase in severity and only intensified through the summer. About 60 percent of U.S. farms were in areas experiencing drought by the middle of August.
The latest drought monitor released Thursday shows eastern Iowa, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin were removed from the abnormally dry category, as soil moisture has been replenished to near normal levels by snowmelt and rain.
The monitor has five levels of drought from the lowest level of abnormally dry up to moderate, severe, extreme, and exceptional levels.
A USDA report Friday expects the season average of corn to run $6.65-$7.15 per bushel, so it likely could be a banner year for the crop.
In the recent USDA spring planting survey, farmers indicated plans to plant 97 million acres (39.2 million hectares) in corn - the most since 1936, when 102 million acres were planted.