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More than 50 percent of the United States is under drought conditions right now, putting 2012 in the same category with some of the worst droughts in the nation's history. The 54.6 percent figure (not counting Alaska and Hawaii) makes this year's drought the sixth worst on record in terms of area covered, behind only the brutal droughts of the mid-1950s and the "Dust Bowl" era of the 1930s. Other more recent droughts — such as 2000, 2002, and 1998 — saw a greater percentage of the country suffering from the "severe" or "extreme" drought categories. However, even by that standard, June 2012 still ranks among the top 10 worst droughts of all-time.

The numbers come from a new report by the National Climatic Data Center that will be released on Monday. A separate study put together by Kansas State University and the business journal Farm Futures, demonstrates the impact of that drought by using satellite images to evaluate vegetation growth. The images show that the Plain States (home to most of our corn and soybean crops) are the hardest hit regions, with the health of crops looking much worse today than they did at the same time in 2011.

(Maps created by Dr. Kevin Price and Nan An of the Ecology & Agriculture Spatial Analysis Laboratory at Kansas State University.)

Farmers and businesses are already bracing for a surge in crop prices as major shortages are expected in this year's harvests. It's affecting animal farms, as well, both because feed prices will rise and because some farmers will be forced to cull some of their herds, glutting the market with increased supplies of meat. The industry is also expecting to see more than $1 billion in crop insurance payouts this year, much of which comes through government programs.

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