Snapshot of the Drought’s Impact Across the Country

By Dan Yawitz

The record-breaking drought currently affecting a majority of the country has only gotten worse in the past week, and shows no signs of improving. More than a third of U.S. counties have been declared federal disaster areas. As the heat and dry weather have persisted, the threat to American farmers and ranchers has increased, as the drought continues to dry out already-suffering crops and pastures.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecasted that corn and soybean yields will drop 12 percent and 8 percent, respectively, and has noted that food prices have already begun to rise. However, American food prices will not be the only thing affected by the drought.

Here's a quick snapshot of some of the coverage around the country to provide a broader of perspective:

Nearly 64 percent of the U.S. is currently in a moderate-to-exceptional drought, making this the worst drought the country has seen since the 1950s. By comparison, at the height of the Dust Bowl in 1934, nearly 80 percent of the U.S. was consumed by the same categories of drought, according to USA Today, which has a graphic comparing the current drought with 1934. (Bonus: check out The New York Times for a graphic of annual drought conditions from 1896-2012).

There are farmers, however, who will benefit from the drought, but most of them won’t be American, according to U.S. News and World Report. With American corn and soybean production dropping, and the prices of those commodities rising, farmers in developing countries have an opportunity to profit. 

The impacts of the drought goes beyond a shortage of corn, even in the agricultural world. Ranchers and farmers not only face higher prices when buying feed for their livestock, but the livestock themselves do not fare well in the heat, and are more prone to sickness and heat exhaustion, according to ClimateWire.

The paucity of water across the country has also had unexpected consequences. For example, barge operators in Ohio have been forced to decrease the size of their shipping loads due to low water levels (leading to higher shipping prices), and cheese makers now need to use more milk, since the cows they rely on have less grain to eat, leading to lower dairy fat content. The New York Times has the full article and slideshow.

According to Fox News there’s at least one silver lining to the drought: more flavors! Dry growing conditions are ideal for producing more fruits and vegetables with more flavors, in particularly water-heavy produce, so look out for spicier peppers and tastier melons this year.