Wet spring needed to replenish drought-starved soil in U.S.

Above-average rainfall is needed in the U.S. Midwest and Great Plains to replenish soil parched from last year’s drought and ensure adequate harvests, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center said.

Since Oct. 1, precipitation has broken the worst drought since the 1930s in eastern parts of the Corn Belt, while dryness continues to grip more westerly grain-growing areas, Mark Svoboda, the University of Nebraska-based climatologist, told reporters today in Washington. Unlike last year, when crops had some reserve moisture from 2011 to draw upon, fields have a deficit heading into planting season, he said.

“We need a big spring, that’s the bottom line, because we don’t have the carryover going into 2013 we had going into 2012,” Svoboda said.

While last year’s drought, which reduced corn yields to their lowest since 1995, has eased in some regions, it is still a major concern for farmers and ranchers. As of March 12, 53.3% of the contiguous U.S. was affected by moderate to exceptional drought, down from 54.2% a week earlier, according to the government’s Drought Monitor report. Exceptional drought, the most severe category, was at 5.5% for the second week.

Dry pastures have forced cattle ranchers to reduce herds to the smallest in 61 years, government data show. Still, agriculture may post a record $128.2 billion in profit this year as growers expand output and rebuild inventories, assuming a return to normal yields and production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said last month.

Bloomberg News

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