Late last week, Professional Farmers of America estimated this year's corn harvest at 10.86 billion bushels. The organization, also known as Pro Farmer, forecast the corn yield at 151.5 bushels per acre nationally. Both estimates are below the Agriculture Department's August 11 projections. The reason? -- Persistent drought that is decimating crops in many parts of the grain belt. The government is attempting to provide economic relief for the arid conditions. And this week, the focus was mainly on the nation's cattle herd, which is running out of pasture due to the drought.
USDA says 64 percent of the U.S. inventory of beef cows is located in drought stricken areas – mainly in the Western Plains where there is now a lack of green pasture. That's up 50 percent in the number of cows in drought areas from six weeks ago.
After visiting the hard-hit ranch and farmlands of South Dakota this week, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns announced a package to help producers.
Mike Johanns, USDA Secretary: "What we have is a 788 million dollar assistance package. Now let me make it very, very clear, some is new funds, some is unused funds we were able to refocus."
Johanns announced the drought relief package includes $50 million dollars for ranchers in 740 counties in 20 states hardest hit by drought to help restore their purchasing power.
Arid conditions are, of course, affecting more than cattle. Earlier this year, farm-state lawmakers had pushed for a $4 billion disaster aid package to help producers affected by drought. However, House conservatives and President Bush killed it earlier this year. A new $4 billion package is now pending in the Senate.
But a USDA spokesman said before committing to such a plan, government officials want to have a better estimate of this fall's harvest.