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Worst drought in 50 years could last through October

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center were unable to assure growers that there is an end to the drought in sight. In the meantime, grain prices have skyrocketed. 

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The two big questions in the U.S. Corn Belt -- how low the harvest and how high the prices -- were still unanswered. But conditions were worsening as corn was failing to pollinate and soybeans, planted later, face their key growth stage in stress.

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Iowa and Illinois, which together produce about a third of all U.S. corn and soybeans, continue to bake.

"The soil moisture in Iowa is pretty much gone so there's not much to keep crops going. Even if temperatures went down 5 degrees and rainfall increased 50 percent for the rest of this month, it might slow the rate of decline but it's not going to reverse the decline in crop conditions and the ultimate yield," said Harry Hillaker, Iowa state climatologist. "There's not much left of the Corn Belt that's in good shape."

In Williamsport, Ohio, Scott Metzger, 37, said it rained for about 45 minutes on his farm on Thursday and according to his rain gauge he got 1-3/10 inch of rain. But since May 13, he said, the farm has only had 2.1 inches of rain.

"This has been my toughest year of farming so far," he said, saying his corn crop was "finished" because it never pollinated.

Warmest Half-Year in History 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the January-June period was the hottest half-year on record in the United States, with 29 states seriously affected.

Around the world, last month was the fourth-warmest June, NOAA experts said. Temperatures on land were the warmest ever recorded, while ocean temperatures were the 10th warmest. The Northern Hemisphere had its second-warmest June on record.

A La Nina pattern of cool water in the equatorial Pacific, which normally brings colder, wetter conditions to parts of the continental United States, ended earlier this year, and there is a good chance that an El Nino pattern could develop before year's end and prolong drought in the central United States, Collins of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.

U.S. grain farmers, buoyed in recent years by soaring prices for grain and farmland, are in better shape to weather the storm than in 1988, the year of the last major drought.

But worst hit are likely to be dairy, pork, poultry and beef farmers, who are seeing their feed costs go through the roof and already taking action to reduce their herd sizes. Consumers may not see immediate food inflation, but it is coming.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Kim Palmer in Cleveland. Writing by Peter Bohan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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