Severe drought hits US farmers

The United States government has allocated $780m in aid in response to a severe drought that is ravaging crops across the central United States and forcing farmers to sell off herds of cattle.

Low rainfall combined with extreme heat has led to severe water shortages in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming, dried out corn and sunflower fields, and deprived cattle of pasture land.

The drought follows a recent report (see related story) that predicted worsening water shortages across a number of regions, including parts of the US.

Scientists from the University of Nebraska have called the drought the worst for 50 years. Summer temperatures climbed to the highest on record, with a thermometer reading at a meteorological station in North Dakota reaching 48 degrees C in mid-July.

Meanwhile, official figures for South Dakota indicate that winter wheat crops were 43% lower than normal, and alfalfa was expected to fall 35% below an average year's yield.

Corn crops were down also because temperatures had been too high for pollination to occur.

Many farmers transported cattle out of the drought-stricken area, despite high fuel prices, while others sold entire herds.

Some rainfall in August seemed to provide temporary relief but did nothing to alleviate the long-term water shortages, scientists said.

Michael Rounds, the governor of South Dakota, has asked the federal government to introduce a special "agricultural disaster status" across most of his state, and took the unusual step of asking citizens to pray for rain.

Goska Romanowicz




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