By STEVE BINDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite above-average rainfall in some parts of the Midwest this winter, federal climate experts are predicting the drought of 2012 could meld into the drought of 2013 for much of the country again – without additional precipitation, soon.
The latest predication comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Integrated Drought Information System, and is buoyed by meteorologists with the National Weather Service as well as regional weather experts.
During testimony before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee last week, lawmakers were told roughly 56 percent of the nation remains under moderate to exceptional drought conditions, with the worst areas in the Plains and western part of the Corn Belt.
And below-average rainfall is expected from March through May in those areas, said Roger Pulwarter, director of the NOAA’s drought information system. “For now, we are forecasting drier conditions for those areas, but of course that could change,” he said.
Southern Illinois meteorologist Jim Rasor said, based on weather records he has maintained for the past 30 years, the region likely is due for a swing back to cooler temperatures this spring and summer and normal levels of precipitation.
The southern Plains and most of the Midwest, from Missouri, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, all received above-average levels of precipitation during the past three months, which has helped soil conditions as growers enter the 2013 corn and soybean planting seasons.
In Illinois, soil conditions are faring better than expected, said Ron Coleman, a soil scientist with the state’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“In Illinois, a lot of farmland has groundwater,” even poorly drained soils, Coleman said. “Currently, a lot of our state does not have a problem” with subsoil moisture.
It’s a different story to the west, though, said University of Missouri soil scientist Randall Miles. He said he found moisture deficits in areas of his state that had received extra rain from Hurricane Isaac – and while the first few inches of soil were wet, the soil beneath was dry.
Miles projected almost continuous snow and rain will be needed to return the Missouri soils to a normal state this year.
Drought loans deadline near
Meanwhile, small farm businesses, cooperatives and most entities that have agriculture or aquaculture as their focus in parts of southern Illinois and eastern Missouri have until March 12 to apply for drought-based federal loans.
Up to $2 million can be awarded to each applicant for U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest loans.
The loans are available to businesses hurt by the 2012 drought in the following Illinois counties: Alexander, Clay, Crawford, Edwards, Franklin, Gallatin, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Lawrence, Massac, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Richland, Saline, Union, Wabash, Wayne, White and Williamson.
In Missouri, the counties eligible are Cape Girardeau, Perry and Scott.
“When the secretary of agriculture issues a disaster declaration to help farmers recover from damages and losses to crops, the Small Business Administration issues a declaration to eligible entities affected by the same disaster,” said Frank Skaggs an SBA director.
The loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred. The loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.
To apply, contact your local USDA Service Center or, online, go to https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela