Drought spreads in US Midwest

Extreme drought conditions have spread in several US Midwest states, as corn and soybean crops wither and food prices rise in the worst dry spell in decades.

Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states - not including Alaska and Hawaii - is experiencing some drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

More than half of all US counties have been declared natural disaster areas.

Congress was hurrying on a disaster relief package for livestock producers before its month-long recess.

Feed prices are soaring, and producers don't have many farmers' benefit of crop insurance.

The price of corn - the US leads the world in corn production - has risen 50 per cent since June because of the drought, said Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.

But some anti-tax groups see the disaster relief as another government bailout, and it was unlikely to receive Senate consideration before Congress adjourns.

The new drought survey, based on conditions as of Tuesday morning, found the country's area experiencing extreme drought - the second highest classification behind exceptional drought - rose nearly two percentage points from the previous week, to 22.3 per cent.

This was due largely to a worsening of conditions in parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The area facing exceptional drought also increased, from 2.38 per cent to about three per cent.

Recent rains still won't be sufficient to salvage parched crops, National Drought Mitigation Center climatologist Brian Fuchs said.

The precipitation "probably held off the intensification for a week or so. But the heat is going to kick back in, and we're going to be in the same situation," Fuchs said.

As of this week, nearly half of the nation's corn crop was rated poor to very poor, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

About 37 per cent of the US soybeans were lumped into that category.

Nearly three-quarters of US cattle acreage is in drought-affected areas, the survey showed.

The potential financial fallout appears to be intensifying.

The latest Mid-America Business Conditions Index, released on Wednesday, showed that the drought and global economic turmoil is hurting business in nine Midwest states, boosting worries about the prospect of another recession.

Ranchers say the extreme conditions have devastated hay supplies and pastureland.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced conservation land will be opened for emergency haying and grazing.

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