ST. LOUIS - The nation's worst drought in decades showed no signs of improvement last week in parts of the Midwest and Plains where the corn harvest is about two-thirds complete, clouding the prospects for the winter wheat crop, according to a drought report released Thursday.
The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly update, showing that nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states remained mired in some form of drought, was released the same day the federal government lowered for the fourth month in a row its projection for the size of this year's corn crop.
The USDA now estimates that farmers will harvest 10.71 billion bushels of corn, down from last month's estimate of 10.73 billion bushels. The average yield is about 122 bushels per acre, off from July's projection of 122.8 bushels.
The dry conditions remained unchanged in Iowa, the nation's biggest corn producer, with three-fourths of the state still in the extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications. Nearly all of Nebraska still fell under those two categories, according to the report, which covered the seven-day period ending Tuesday.
The USDA said 69 percent of the nation's corn crop has been brought in from the fields as of Monday, more than double the average rate of the previous five years. Iowa farmers have harvested about three-quarters of their crops while 80 percent of that grain has been brought in in neighboring Illinois. The Missouri corn harvest is nearly done.
Some 58 percent of the soybean crops have been harvested, 18 percent faster than the pace during the previous half decade.
Dry conditions continue to intensify in Kansas, where extreme drought now covers the entire south-central portion of the state, according to Thursday's update released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Those parched environs are stalling growth of winter wheat. The 65 percent of that crop planted in Kansas as of last Sunday was slightly above the average pace, though a below-average 25 percent of that emerged. Less than one-third of Nebraska's winter wheat fields have germinated, 12 days behind the norm.