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Dust Bowl

Almost anywhere you go this summer, the heat is brutal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently stated this month that the last twelve months (July 2011 to June 2012) were the warmest on record for the contiguous United States. In fact, with the exception of Washington, every single state in the contiguous United States saw warmer-than-average temperatures during that period. Add to that the fact that the first six months of 2012 have been the hottest half-year on record and you can see why plenty of people are concerned.

One of the biggest areas of concern from the ongoing heat is how it has been contributing to the nation’s drought and the impact it is having on our food supply.

In their recent report, the NOAA went on to say that 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions. This marks the largest percentage in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s 12-year record. To get more specific, more than 70 percent of the Midwest Corn Belt was in some stage of drought in the middle of July (a number up 63 percent from just a week earlier).

Even more disheartening is that the NOAA does not see much to be hopeful for in the near future. In fact, some government forecasters have not ruled out drought conditions in the U.S. heartland lasting beyond October.

All of this means that with high temperatures and little to no water, our nation’s crops are in rough shape.

Just last year, the percentage of corn crop with a top-quality rating was at 69 percent. It is now 48 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, corn rated poor-to-very poor has ballooned to 38 percent compared to just 11 percent a year ago.

With farmers plowing under the crops in favor of the insurance claim rather than harvesting what has been baking in the sun, the U.S. stockpile is diminishing at a rapid rate. More and more fields will produce a zero gain this year. Between March and June, corn stockpiles have seen a 48 percent drop, the largest drop since 1996.

The ripple effect of the U.S. drought is and will continue to have an impact beyond our farmers. The diminishing supply will pinch ranchers, who use corn for feed. For the global market, the U.S. is number one exported of many types of grain. And you can bet that other countries—especially those that have first hand experience with food riots—will be watching closely.

In the coming weeks, I’ll explore this ripple effect more closely so you can better understand what the future holds and what steps you can take to help diminish the impact this drought has brought upon us all.

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