News Section
Stories from Climate Central's Science Journalists and Content Partners

The Top 10 Hardest-Hit States for Crop Damage

The searing U.S. drought of 2012 devastated the nation’s corn crop, pushing yields down in some states to their lowest levels in nearly 30 years. According to recently-released numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were among the hardest hit Corn Belt states, with yields at 28-, 26-, and 22-year lows, respectively.

To put the severity and impact of the 2012 U.S. drought in context, the top 10 hardest-hit states for crop damage are illustrated in the interactive graphic above. With several states seeing their lowest corn crops in more than  20 years, along with damaged soybean and sorghum harvests, the interactive shows how 2012 ranks against the past 27 years for all 10 states.

Click image to enlarge. 

Missouri was hit particularly hard, with corn yields down 42 percent below its 2002-2011 average and Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky were also devastated, with yields at 20-year lows. In Illinois and Indiana, yields were down by more than a third.  Kentucky, not a major corn producing state, had the largest overall corn crop failure, with more than a 50 percent reduction in yield, compared to its 2002-2011 average.

In Colorado and Nebraska, where most corn crops are irrigated, far fewer acres of planted corn were even harvested in 2012. In Colorado, only 70 percent of crops were harvested, compared to an average of 85 percent between 2002-2011, and in Nebraska the harvest was down about 7 percent from the 2002-2011 average. In most other states, where crops depend on rain rather than irrigation, the harvest remained high, even as yields declined substantially.

On Friday, the USDA is expected to announce the final crop values for 2012. Even though last year’s drought touched more than 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land, at first glance those figures may not reflect the full extent of crop damage. That’s because the dwindling crop yields drove up prices of corn, soybeans and sorghum in the second half of 2012.

Overall, crop-related farm income was not down substantially in 2012, despite the severe drought. The unusually high crop prices and record insurance payouts — at least $14 billion in government aid has already been doled out — helped offset drought-related profit losses.

Bloomberg News recently reported that farmers are likely to see lower profits in 2013, even if the drought becomes less severe or disappears completely later this year because corn prices will be lower than last year and fewer farmers will qualify for insurance.

Climate Change Increases the Odds Of Hotter, Drier Droughts

The second week of February marked the 34th consecutive week in which more than half the land area in the contiguous U.S. has been engulfed by drought, and the 33rd consecutive week in which more than 10 percent of that area was under “extreme drought,” or worse. As this historic drought rolls on through a dry winter, the chances of recovery rest increasingly on a far wetter-than-average spring.

The drought was most likely initially set into motion by the cooler-than-average water temperatures of La Nina in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which influences weather patterns across the continent. But some scientists suggest that the overall warmer climate created by manmade global warming may have amplified this already devastating drought, particularly by triggering more intense heat during the spring and summer of 2012.

A recently released draft of a new federal climate change assessment shows that as the climate continues to warm in the next few decades, drought events are likely to become more frequent and severe, leading to more significant water supply and agricultural impacts in much of the U.S.

Soybeans, the country’s second biggest crop — in both acres and sales — was also hit hard in some states. Kansas saw the most damage, where the average yield was nearly 30 percent lower than in recent years. Nationally, soybean yields were only 5 percent below normal, but Iowa, the biggest soybean producer in the country, had its second-lowest yield in a decade.

Large portions of sorghum crops were also ruined by the drought, particularly in Kansas, the country’s top sorghum producer (harvested sorghum grain is primarily used as animal feed). Throughout June, July, and August, the entire state was in drought (with as much as 90 percent in severe drought) and sorghum yields were about 50 percent lower than recent years. Nationally, sorghum yields averaged about 20 percent below normal.

Reporting for this story was contributed by Urooj Raja.

Related Content
Ongoing Coverage of Historic Drought in U.S.
Good News, Bad News Continues for Drought Across U.S.
Lack of Warning on Drought Reflects Forecasting Flaws 
Low Snowfall Raises Concerns About Drought Recovery 
USDA Declares Winter Wheat Belt Drought Disaster Area 
Extreme Weather 101: Drought & Our Changing Climate


By Dave (Basking Ridge, NJ 07920)
on February 15th, 2013

Although no one would reasonably argue that GW is the cause of this drought, the role of GW in exacerbating it is nevertheless obvious. We also don’t know how it will play out in the longer term and in the larger world. There are clear reasons to be concerned about that. I think that the impacts, both direct and indirect, are being under reported.

With something so widespread and which is also shaping up to be chronic, there have to be many detailed repercussions beyond the immediate and central concerns over declining US crop yields and attention grabbing things like unusually low water levels in the Mississippi. There is also the exacerbation of allocation fights over declining water resources between regions and industries. There are also presumably a myriad of subtle impacts like the fact that some grasses become toxic when drought stressed such that some US livestock have been poisoned by feeding on stressed grasses during this drought.

So this raises questions that go beyond “The Top 10 Hardest-Hit States for Crop Damage” - questions about the far ranging impacts on plants, insects and wildlife in general of something like this. Questions about what is the impact on concentrating water pollution and the impact of that on freshwater species. Water levels in the Great Lakes have also declined dramatically and the more recent repots about that highlight what is part of a longer trend there. That’s also a major issue and something that logically must also be recently exacerbated by the same climate factors that have driven the current mainland drought. So just what is the scope of all the cascading ripple effects of this drought when all of this comes back to bite us not just today but years from now too?  And how many of those impacts will be permanent?

Reply to this comment

By Charles Winter (Washington/DC/20008)
on February 15th, 2013

Sounds like a lot of red state farmers ought to be talking to their elected officials about climate change.

Reply to this comment

By afisher (san antonio/TX/78240)
on February 16th, 2013

There are a lot of unanswered questions and I would suspect a lot of unintended consequences as we move forward in the 21 Century.  We are seeing “water wars”  in TX.  I am tired of those in DC saying that even talking about any of the potential problems raised by Dave are too expensive to even be considered.  I am tired of some in DC saying that the short term problem is to make every solution to be based on Cost and ignore the Benefit side of the equation.  It is sad that DC can / will only look at these growing problems through a short term lens and never consider a long view.

What we have seen recently:  Nuclear waste storage in WA state is leaking, natural gas leak in the Gulf via Apache Drilling has been occurring for more than a week and they didn’t consider it to be a problem and didn’t report it until yesterday.  There is a fracking brine storage unit in LA that has been an on-going disaster zone since Aug of 2012 and no one has a solution with a growing sinkhole and storage site continuing to deteriorate.  Nuclear sites are failing (CA) and are either out of service or being permanently taken out of service (FL).  These appear as news blips on a singular radar swing and then they are rarely re-visited and no one seems to talk about these “unrelated” problems as “unintended consequences” as failures.

I don’t have any answers, but at least a few people recognize that there are a growing list of “unintended consequences” that are under reported - which leaves me both gob-smacked and concerned.

Reply to this comment

By neillevine (Brooklyn, NY 11224)
on February 17th, 2013

Obama is a do nothing, except when it comes to cronyism

Reply to this comment

By Mike Smith (Oakville, Ontario L6L 5J2)
on February 19th, 2013

We can talk about Al Nino and Global Warming in general terms but I think it is wisest to talk about the decline of our Arctic Ice Cap.  Ice reflects the sun’s heat and water absorbs it. If we lose the entire ice cap, we will be on a path to unstoppable, catastrophic global warming.

We have 3 years to start reducing our global carbon emissions by 5% per year.

It seems that the most delinquent countries will not take action until they see leadership from the US.  i.e. If Barack Obama can stop the Keystone Pipeline and get a Green Energy program started with some form of Carbon Tax during his term, then the world may be saved.  If not, China and Canada will continue pushing oil while they wait for a level playing field.

Reply to this comment

Name (required):
Email (required):
Enter the word "climate" in the box below:

[+] View our comment guidelines.

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until reviewed by Climate Central staff. Thank you for your patience.