From border to border and from coast to coast, withering summer heat has taken a deadly toll. At last report, at least 16 people in seven states had died heat-related deaths. Many of the victims were elderly city dwellers. In the country the heat also has taken a toll, but of a different kind. Record-breaking temperatures and drought are affecting farmers and ranchers, as more and more states declare disaster areas.
Especially hard hit are the Northern Plains. U.S. spring wheat ratings continue to decline with 32 percent of the crop now in poor to very poor condition, compared to only 6 percent last year. Custom cutters from Oklahoma to North Dakota say it's the worst they've ever seen.
The biggest decreases in the wheat crop are in Montana and North Dakota, where hot weather has persisted for the last few weeks, averaging at least 8 degrees above normal. In addition, the Northern Plains aren't receiving much-needed moisture, causing a spike in rural grass fires in the past month.
USDA reports 14 percent of the cotton crop is in very poor condition, nearly triple of the previous year. Agronomists in Texas estimate two million acres of cotton to be lost. While rain has relieved a small section of the state along the Gulf Coast, dryland cotton has taken a huge hit. This follows one of the poorest winter wheat crops in Texas history.
Sale-barn owners in drought states are reporting higher volumes in cattle in recent weeks. As grazing acres dry up, ranchers are being forced to disperse their herds. The Agriculture Department claims as much as 72 percent of pasture and range land is in fair to very poor condition.
Little rain fell across the upper Midwest, where diminishing soil moisture reserves and increasingly hot weather stressed silking corn and blooming soybeans. Despite the poor weather conditions though, USDA rated 62 percent of the corn crop and 57 percent of the soybean crop as good to excellent.