Despite Hurricane Sandy, Over 60% of U.S. Remains in Drought

By Patrick Burke | November 6, 2012 | 11:30 AM EST

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( - Hurricane Sandy may have produced extensive flood damage in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but a majority of the continental United States is still in drought.

The most severe and extensive drought in at least 25 years is seriously affecting the nation’s crop and livestock sectors and it may raise food prices at the retail level, the USDA’s Economic Research Service says.

As of October 30, 60.16 percent of the continental United States was experiencing drought conditions, according to the Agriculture Department’s “Drought Monitor.” That’s down from 65.45 percent on September 25, which marked the highest percentage of drought-affected area since 2000.

Through the end of October, drought conditions either remained the same or expanded in affected parts of the continental U.S., except for parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Central North Carolina and parts of Georgia and Alabama saw an expansion in “abnormal dryness.”

And extreme and exceptional drought —“exceptional” being the Drought Monitor’s most critical category-- persisted in the Great Plains, as well as in Eastern and Central Texas.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, drought can cause crop failure, wildfires, energy shortages, municipal water shortages, and fish and wildlife mortality, and, therefore, affects many sectors of the economy—namely agricultural, energy, and recreation industries, as well as municipalities, government and the environment.

The most recent crop production report, released on October 11, shows the corn production forecast is down from that of September. This year’s corn production is expected to be the lowest in the U.S. since 2006.

Furthermore, winter wheat progress as of October 14 has been below the 5-year average in 14 out of 18 states the USDA monitors. The lack of wheat production is clearest in South Dakota, where the crop emergence is 56 percent below the 5-year average

As of October 14, the USDA Economic Research Service rated 55 percent of U.S. pastures "poor to very poor," something that affects U.S. livestock and beef production.

"Beef production in 2012 is projected to decline 2.3 percent from 2011 levels, and then decline another 3.9 percent in 2013. Broiler and pork production also is expected to experience declines in 2013, while milk production is expected to remain stable," according to the ERS.

Since July, USDA has made available close to $30 million in emergency funds to help drought-affected farmers. Emergency funds may be used to repair damaged land and for feeding and watering livestock.