The period between July and early September typically is the warmest of the year and often is referred to as the "dog days of summer." So far this year, they've lived up to their reputation. Last month, the average national temperature was 77.2 degrees. That's the hottest July since the "Dust Bowl" year of 1936. Drought is further complicating the problem. The months of May and June were the driest, nationally, in nearly 20 years. USDA's latest crop conditions report indicated that while the nation's corn crop appears to be in pretty good shape, the drought is making an impact on other crops.
As a whole, the nation remains abnormally dry. More than 5.9 million acres have been scorched by wildfires so far this year, which is 70 percent more than normal for this time of year.
Nationally, the Agriculture Department indicates that between 28 to 37 percent of the peanut, spring wheat, sorghum, and cotton crops were in poor to very poor condition. Last year at this time, somewhere between 5 and 17 percent of those crops garnered similar ratings. Cattle producers also are enduring the arid conditions, and half of the nation's pastures and rangelands are listed in poor to very poor condition.
While some areas are reporting large proportions of corn and soybean crops to be in poor or very poor condition, nationally most corn and soybeans do not appear to be heavily affected by the drought.
Moderate to heavy rains this week did bring some relief to many areas in the Midwest. Some of the largest amounts fell in Minnesota, where the state's Department of Natural Resources is allowing farmers to use 12 to 16 inches of groundwater per acre for irrigation.
In North Dakota, officials are urging farmers to carry fire extinguishers in their combines. About one-third of the grass fires in North Dakota last month were blamed on farm equipment. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns says the Dakotas, in particular, have been "hit hard by the dry conditions."