Central US is now getting worst of the drought. Corn crops are stressed, rivers are running low

Jun 29, 2023, 9:06 AM

This photo provided by Mike Shane shows Shane as he stands in his corn field near Peoria, Ill., Tue...

This photo provided by Mike Shane shows Shane as he stands in his corn field near Peoria, Ill., Tuesday, June 27, 2023. By now, the corn stalks should be 10 feet high. Instead, they’re barely up to Shane’s waist. Illinois and other corn-growing states in the central U.S. have been hit hard by drought, prompting concerns that the crop will be hurt this year. (Mack Foster/Mike Shane via AP)

(Mack Foster/Mike Shane via AP)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Mike Shane’s Illinois farm got a nice soaking on May 8, shortly after he planted his corn crop. Since then, rain has been hard to come by.

Plenty of storms have ventured close only to fizzle out before making it to Shane’s 200-acre spread near Peoria.

“It comes across the Mississippi River and then just disappears,” Shane, 47, said. “My corn looks absolutely terrible right now.” Without substantial rain soon, “I just don’t see any hope for it,” he said.

Heavy rain over the winter eased the drought in the West, but now the middle of the country is extraordinarily dry. Crops are stressed, rivers are running low, and cities and towns are anxiously hoping for a break in the weather.

Experts say the drought in the central U.S. is the worst since at least 2012, and in some areas, is drawing comparisons to the 1988 drought that devastated corn, wheat and soybean crops. This year, although temperatures have been generally mild through the spring and early days of summer, rainfall has been sorely lacking.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, operated by the federal government and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reports that nearly half of Kansas is in either extreme or exceptional drought condition — the highest drought designation. More than a quarter of Nebraska is in extreme drought, and 13% is in exceptional drought. Arid conditions permeate Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and Kentucky.

The frequency and intensity of droughts and rainfall are increasing due to according to data from a pair of satellites used to measure changes in Earth’s water storage. The study was published in March in the journal Nature Water.

Adam Hartman, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, said some parts of the central U.S. have been experiencing extreme drought since the winter. In other states, “flash droughts” have popped up over the past 2-3 months.

“As a result you’ve see drastic losses in topsoil, subsoil moisture,” Hartman said. “We’ve seen ground water levels start to lower as well. We’ve seen stream flows start to decline.”

Crops are feeling the impact. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now rates only half of the U.S. corn crop as good or excellent — the lowest percentage since 1988. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s corn-growing areas are in drought.

“That gives us some indicator that we’re seeing widespread stress on those crops throughout the Corn Belt,” said Krista Swanson, an economist for the National Corn Growers Association.

If rains don’t arrive soon, Swanson believes total yield could be down about 1 billion bushels from the original projection of 16.7 billion bushels.

That won’t necessarily mean higher costs for consumers because much of the corn is used for feed, ethanol or is exported, Swanson said. The real impact is on the farmers.

“Their cost-per-acre is the same regardless of what they produce,” Swanson said. “In these years where we have lower production, on the farmer side that’s a challenge.”

Water levels are dipping in rivers. The Mississippi River — especially from southern Illinois to the south — is extremely low in many spots. It was just last fall that the flood levels in the spring, before the latest drought-fueled decline.

Lynn Muench, a senior vice president for the American Waterways Operators, which advocates for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry, said barge capacity is being voluntarily reduced on parts of the Mississippi River.

Losing capacity is a financial setback but operators are taking it in stride, Muench said.

“We’re a flexible and resilient industry so we’ll keep going,” he said.

Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, said many communities are on edge. The drought last fall cost river communities billions of dollars in losses due to increased energy and water purification costs, lost tourism revenue, commodity losses and other hits.

“Now we’re right back into drought again,” Wellenkamp said. So far, impact has been minimal, “but if we don’t get relief in July, that’s all going to change,” he said.

On Shane’s 200-acre farm, corn should be standing 10 feet tall by now. It’s barely to his waist. The leaves are yellowed and Shane isn’t certain the ears of corn are even developing.

“If that’s the case, it’s worthless,” he said.

But farmers aren’t giving up hope. Swanson said the El Nino weather pattern that has taken hold typically means more rain and better growing conditions in the central U.S.

“We could see more favorable weather over the next two months, which could have a positive impact,” she said.

But even with El Nino, Hartman noted that the seasonal outlook for the summer months projects below-normal rainfall.

“This drought could stick around for a little bit,” Hartman said.

National News

In this photo provided by the Morgan & Morgan law firm, utility contractors remove a charred Hawaii...

Associated Press

Takeaways from AP report on Maui fire investigation

Investigators are trying to solve a mystery about the origin of last month’s deadly Maui wildfire: How did a small, wind-whipped fire sparked by downed power lines and declared extinguished flare up again hours later into a devastating inferno that killed at least 97 people? Here are the key takeaways of an Associated Press investigation […]

2 hours ago

This photo provided by the Morgan & Morgan law firm shows a charred Hawaiian Electric utility pole ...

Associated Press

How did the Maui fire spread so quickly? Overgrown gully, stubborn embers may be key to probe

Melted remains of an old car tire. Heavily burned trees. A charred stump of an abandoned utility pole. Investigators are examining these and other pieces of evidence as they seek to solve the mystery of last month’s deadly Maui wildfire: How did a small, wind-whipped fire sparked by downed power lines and declared extinguished flare […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Damarra Atkins pays respect to George Floyd at a mural at George Floyd Square, Friday, April...

Associated Press

Black Americans express concerns about racist depictions in news media, lack of coverage efforts

NEW YORK (AP) — In a new study, Black Americans expressed broad concerns about how they are depicted in the news media, with majorities saying they see racist or negative depictions and a lack of effort to cover broad segments of their community. Four in five Black adults say they see racist or racially insensitive […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in March 2021,...

Associated Press

Expert ruling that Colorado supermarket shooting suspect is competent for trial set to be debated

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — A hearing begins Wednesday to determine if the man accused of killing 10 people at a Colorado supermarket in 2021 is mentally competent to stand trial. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 24, was found mentally competent by experts at the state mental hospital in August, but his defense attorney Kathryn Herold asked […]

4 hours ago

FILE-Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks with Strider Technologies, an AI-powered strategic intelligen...

Associated Press

Race to replace Mitt Romney heats up as Republican Utah House speaker readies to enter

Republican Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson is poised to formally announce at a Wednesday night rally that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mitt Romney, who recently announced he won’t run for reelection. Romney announced earlier this month that he won’t seek a second term, saying younger people needed to […]

5 hours ago

FILE - A map of a GOP proposal to redraw Alabama's congressional districts is displayed at the Alab...

Associated Press

In a win for Black voters in redistricting case, Alabama to get new congressional lines

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is headed to the first significant revamp of its congressional map in three decades after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s bid to keep using a plan with a single majority-Black district. The decision on Tuesday sets the stage for a new map with greater representation for Black voters […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Central US is now getting worst of the drought. Corn crops are stressed, rivers are running low