Online map depicts worst drought for U.S. agriculture since 1988

WASHINGTON—While the central United States is experiencing its worst drought in decades, it wouldn’t be fair to compare it to droughts of the 1950s or the Dust Bowl years.

Since those events, more farmers have switched to conservation tillage to keep their topsoil from blowing away, and today’s hybrid crops are better able to withstand dry weather. This summer’s drought is devastating for farmers who won’t have a crop and to livestock producers who will see feed costs rise; however, analysts are saying farmers’ and ranchers’ increased productivity means the drought won’t have nearly the negative impact on food availability and costs as previous historic droughts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a map of its primary and contiguous drought designations nationwide at

While this year’s drought is considered the most serious to affect U.S. agriculture since 1988, it is important to note that farm income has grown 147 percent since that year and that debt-to-asset ratio has been cut in half since 1986, according to the agriculture department.

Between 1987 and 2009 soybean productivity increased by 30 percent, corn by 38 percent, and red meat and poultry by 46 percent. And the average dairy cow produced 57 percent more milk during that time period.

Eighty-five percent of farms are covered by crop insurance in 2012, compared to only 25 percent in 1988, which makes a difference when crops are ruined by droughts and other natural disasters.

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