As producers wrap up the earliest harvest ever recorded by the USDA’s Crop Progress report, the drought continues to weigh on many minds and wallets. Unfortunately, this week’s Drought Monitor shows little change in the extensive drought conditions that continue to cover nearly two-thirds of the country.

For agriculture producers in the Midwest and across the High Plains, this means the reality that drought conditions will linger through 2013.

Currently in the High Plains, just less than 28 percent of the region is in exceptional drought, the highest level reported by the Drought Monitor, jumping by more than 2 percentage points from last week’s report.  This marks the highest percentage of exceptional drought in the region, continuing the 2012 trend of setting drought records.

Nebraska and Kansas appear to taking the brunt of the drought in the area, though a few wet storm systems brought some relief to the Sunflower state this week, shifting the drought from exceptional to extreme. Ninety-three percent of the state remains in extreme to worse drought. 

Nebraska, however, isn’t as lucky – 77 percent of the state is in exceptional drought.  

The Midwest isn’t much better, though less than one-half of a percent is considered in exceptional drought.  The remnants of Hurricane Isaac in late August and early September kicked-started a wet trend for the region, though 70 percent remain in moderate or worse drought.

Iowa is the driest state of the region, with 75 percent considered in extreme to exceptional drought.

Unfortunately for both key agricultural regions, the next 5 days show another dry period. Any drought relief will be minimal at best.  Click here to read more.

Is El Niño coming…really?  
Whispers are growing louder than El Niño, long-considered the Corn Belt’s drought-busting wheat phenomenon, may no longer be ready to save the day. However, the Climate Prediction Center disagrees that suggests that even though El Niño’s development has slowed, a weak El Niño is still likely.

However, it is not clear whether a fully fledged El Niño will emerge. According to a report by Reuters, available here, this year’s El Niño could be on-par with previous, less-disruptive episodes in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007.

Unfortunately, the Oct. 3 update to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook showed persistence drought for 20 of the contiguous U.S., including eight major agriculture-producing states. Click here to view the map.

MODIS shows extreme drought
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites has provided an impressive look at the vegetarian – or lack thereof – across the country. The map, seen to the right, contrasts plant health in August 2012 against the average conditions. Areas in brown show where plan growth was below normal. The few green patches demonstrate areas where vegetation is more widespread than normal.

“By far, this is the driest year we have seen since the launch of MODIS,” said Molly Brown, a vegetation and food security researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a NASA report. “I am struck by the extraordinary depth and spatial scale of this drought. There is very little fodder out there for animals to eat.”

Read more from NASA here.