Government officials report more fire retardant has been dropped since April than all of the year 2000, the worst fire season on record. It would appear the west can anticipate a long hot summer.
The effects of the drought are not only setting forests ablaze, or pushing cattle from the parched range; it is also claiming grain yields and altering regional farm economies.
Perhaps no where has the drought siphoned more profit from farmers' pockets than Kansas. As the harvesters roll into the state, nearly half the winter wheat crop is rated in either poor or very poor condition. Eighty percent of the crop is rated at no better than fair. And on Wednesday the USDA forecast the nation's winter wheat production would total 1.24 billion bushels, a five percent drop from last month's government guess, 9 percent below last year's harvest – the lowest production in 24 years.
To the east in the nation's Corn Belt wet weather has slowed planting progress of corn and soybeans. For the most part farmers have caught up, but rains discouraged farmers from planting at least a half million acres in corn. In total 76.1 million acres were planted in corn. That's down four percent from last year.
The diversion of corn to soybeans pushed planted acreage for America's favorite legume to 75.4 million acres, one percent above last year. Soy plantings may have been higher, but the government's generous subsidies for cotton under the new farm bill have drawn acres from soybeans in the south. The government projects cotton planting will total 74.3 million acres, up 2 percent from.