Drought expected to persist this year

Jeff Wilson / Bloomberg News /

CHICAGO — The risk of drought damaging corn and soybean crops for a second year is increasing as forecasters predict persistently dry weather in the Midwest and Great Plains through April, the start of the planting season.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center likely will say today that the growing region will remain drier than normal over the next three months, according to four of five forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg. Almost 42 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in severe to exceptional drought as of Jan. 8, government data show. That’s more than double for the date a year earlier, before the worst drought since the 1930s cut combined output of corn and soybeans by the most since 1996.

“The drought will persist through May with warm temperatures and below-normal rain in the western half of the Midwest,” Joel Widenor, the director of agricultural services for Bethesda, Md.-based Commodity Weather Group, said in a telephone interview. “About 50 percent of the Midwest will remain in drought condition.”

Corn and soybean prices surged to records last year as output fell, while dry fields across the Great Plains left winter-wheat conditions in November at their worst since at least 1985, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began collecting the data.

Wheat futures jumped to a four-year high last year, and farmers have already collected a record $11.581 billion on insurance claims for damage to all crops in 2012.

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