28 Jul 2012

US drought hits Midwest crops, fish and water supply

2:07 pm on 28 July 2012

In the United States, temperatures exceeding 38 degrees Celsius and scarce rain are making for another blistering weekend for much of the Midwest.

The most extensive drought there since 1956 is devastating crops, evaporating rivers, and threatening to push world food prices higher.

Violent storms brought rain to the extreme eastern portions of the country's corn belt in Ohio on Thursday night, but moisture was sparse further west.

Drought is afflicting nearly all of east-central Missouri, central and western Illinois and much of Iowa, all major corn and soybean producing states.

Governor Jay Nixon said in Missouri, more than 600 farmers have applied for state funds to drill new wells, deepen existing wells or expand irrigation systems under a programme for livestock and crop farmers severely hit by drought.

In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback objected to federal officials releasing water from three Kansas reservoirs to keep the Missouri River navigable and protect endangered birds. A spokesperson said Brownback preferred to keep the reservoirs as high as possible to conserve water for farmers and communities drawing from them.

A year ago, the Missouri River flooded parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, tearing up levees and roads and inundating fields.

After flooding last year, the Mississippi River is now so low that barge operators must lighten loads to avoid getting stuck.

Extreme conditions are killing fish by the thousands in lakes and rivers and could pose a problem for migrating ducks and other waterfowl if the drought stretches into the fall, officials said.

An Illinois state fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson said nationwide, fishing losses could run from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars depending on how long the drought lasts and how widespread it is.