This year saw the largest corn planting in 75 years, and only two months ago, experts predicted a record corn harvest that would send food prices downward. But those high hopes have given way to murmurs about the drought of 1988 ... and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Portions of Indiana, Ohio, and three other corn-growing states are suffering severe drought conditions; in nine states, federal authorities have deemed conditions poor to very poor for up to a half of cornfields, the New York Times reports. The pollination stage is near in many areas and the fate of huge amounts of corn depends on whether rain and lower temperatures arrive.
"It all quickly went from ideal to tragic," says a farmer in Illinois who has watched two of his fields die for lack of rain. "Every day that passes, more corn will be abandoned," he says. "But even if it starts raining now, there will not be that bumper crop everyone talked about." The outlook is better for other parts of the Corn Belt, however. The worst weather conditions have bypassed important corn states like Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and western Iowa, and fields in Kansas and Nebraska are able to rely on irrigation, though at a cost. Some experts say it's premature to worry, arguing that the crop's fate won't be known til late summer.