US drought woes deepen

The drought in America's breadbasket is intensifying at an unprecedented rate, experts have warned, driving concern food prices could soar if crops in the world's key producer are decimated.

The US Drought Monitor yesterday reported almost a threefold increase in areas of extreme drought over the past week in the nine Midwestern states where three quarters of the country's corn and soybean crops are produced.

"That expansion of D3 or extreme conditions intensified quite rapidly and we went from 11.9 per cent to 28.9 per cent in just one week," Brian Fuchs, a climatologist and Drought Monitor author, told AFP.

"For myself, studying drought, that's rapid. We've seen a lot of things developing with this drought that were unprecedented, especially the speed."

Almost two-thirds of the continental United States is now suffering drought conditions, the largest area recorded since the Drought Monitor project started in 1999.

"If you are following the grain prices here in the US, they are reflecting the anticipated shortages with a price increase," Fuchs said.

"In turn you're going to see those price increases trickle into the other areas that use those grain crops: cattle feed, ethanol production and then food stuffs."

In some rural areas, municipal water suppliers are talking about mandatory restrictions because they have seen such a dramatic drop in the water table that they fear being unable to fulfill deliveries to customers, Fuchs said.

"Things have really developed over the last two months and conditions have worsened just that quick and that is really unprecedented," he said.

"Definitely exports are going to suffer because there is going to be less available and the markets are already reflecting that.

"It's anticipated that this drought is going to persist through the next couple of months at least and conditions are not overly favorable to see any widespread improvement," he added.

President Barack Obama's administration has opened up protected US land to help farmers and ranchers hit by the drought and encouraged crop insurance companies to forgo charging interest for a month.

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