The nation's worsening drought conditions are taking a toll in Nebraska and Iowa, and experts said Thursday there's little the states' farmers can do other than plan for the next extended dry period.
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows a few central Nebraska counties enduring an exceptional drought - the monitor's worst possible listing - with the remainder of the state and all of Iowa suffering severe or extreme drought.
The drought map statistics table said more than 45 percent of the contiguous 48 states are experiencing conditions ranging from severe to exceptional drought. That's an increase of more than 3 percentage points from last week's posting.
Little relief is in sight. Federal weather forecasters said earlier this month that the "flash drought" will linger at least until around Halloween in much of the nation's middle and spread north and east.
The pessimistic forecast was more bad news to anxious Nebraska and Iowa farmers who have been contemplating their stunted corn plants and sickly soybean fields.
"When you're in the middle of the drought, your options of dealing with it are limited," said Mike Hayes with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Farmers already have their crops in the field, water supplies are already dropping."
Hayes said the center advocates preparing even now for the next dry spell, which surely will come. That includes documenting what's working and not working now and incorporating those lessons into future plans.
"I think we're making some progress," Hayes said. "There have been some lessons learned. After the '30s drought, we learned that land management can mitigate the effects of a drought."
Mark Thompson, who farms about 1,200 acres north of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and is a professional farm manager, said good land management practices such as no-till farming do help.
"This year we think that's going to pay some dividends, because we've banked every bit of rain that we've had this year," Thompson said.
He said his part of Iowa typically gets about 40 inches of rain a year, but this year around a quarter of that total or less has fallen.
"Eastern Iowa is in worst shape than we are," he said. "Right around here we're still at the tipping point, but conditions have improved somewhat, even though last night's rain wasn't widespread."
Lower temperatures and higher humidity were expected Thursday, Thompson said, "and that helps the crops drastically, because it cuts down their water usage."
National Drought Mitigation Center: http://www.drought.unl.edu/
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