The 2012 growing season has ended for most of the nation’s farmers, but the drought  that dogged many of them appears here to stay. According to the Dec. 11, U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 62% of the continental United States remains in some stage of drought. Forty-three percent of that area is considered to be in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.
Should this weather pattern continue, many farmers would start off the growing season with lower soil moisture contents than they had in 2012. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, which forecasts through the end of February 2013, “persistence of drought is deemed the best bet across central and southern portions of the Intermountain Region, the Rockies and the Plains. Persistence of existing drought, or the development of new drought areas are expected in Texas.”
The long dry spell is already taking its toll on the winter wheat crop. USDA says that this year’s wheat crop is the poorest at this stage in development since the agency started tracking crop condition ratings 25 years ago, according to Feedstuffs Online.
In its Nov. 26 Crop Progress report, USDA pointed out that only 33% of the wheat crop was rated in good to excellent condition, while 26% of the crop was rated poor to very poor. Fifty-two percent of last year’s crop, by comparison, earned the top two condition ratings, while only 13% scored in the bottom two tiers.
The persistent lack of rain is not only hurting the Heartland’s farmers, but also other agribusinesses and commerce in general. The ongoing drought is pushing water levels in the Mississippi so low that portions of the river south of St. Louis might have to be closed to shipping soon.
Tom Allegretti, president of American Waterways Operators, says that more than 20,000 jobs are at risk, as well as $130 million in wages and benefits if the river is closed for two months. Allegretti estimates that more than $2.3 billion of agricultural products, $1.8 billion in chemicals and $1.3 billion worth of petroleum products normally ship on the river in December and January.