ST. LOUIS — The Plains states, where the production of corn and soybeans is key, are being hit harder by excessive drought conditions after the hottest July on record in the continental United States, contributing to a surge in global food prices.
The weekly US Drought Monitor map released Thursday showed that the areas of the contiguous United States mired in drought conditions dropped a little more than 1 percentage point, to 78.14 percent of total area. But the expanse still gripped by extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — rose to 24.14 percent, up nearly 2 points from the week before.
That is because key farm states did not get as much benefit from rain as elsewhere, on the heels of temperatures in July that federal scientists said were so high they broke a record set during the 1930s.
Growers in Iowa — the nation’s biggest corn and soybean producer — saw their conditions further deteriorate, with the amount of that state in extreme or exceptional drought more than doubling, from 30.74 percent last week to 69.14 percent now. In Nebraska, the expanse of land considered in the two worst drought categories rose to 91.2 percent, up 8 percentage points. The area of Kansas in exceptional drought more than doubled, to 38.58 percent.
Those dry conditions have factored into a sharp rise in global food prices after three months of decline, the UN’s Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said in its monthly price report Thursday.
Severe drought punishing the US midsection has sent corn prices soaring by almost 23 percent, and expectations of worsened crop prospects in Russia because of dry weather sent world wheat prices up 19 percent, according to the FAO, which keeps close tabs on volatile global prices.
The US leads the world in exporting corn, soybeans, and wheat, and the surging prices are expected to be felt across the international marketplace, hurting poor food-importing countries, said a study by British charity Oxfam issued on the eve of the UN report.
The FAO said its overall food price index climbed 6 percentage points in July, although it was well below the peak reached in February 2011.