NEW DATA: 42% of U.S. in “Severe Drought”

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The nationwide drought is spreading.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 42% of the country is considered to be in a “severe drought” compared to 37% last week. The U.S. Drought Monitor releases updates every Thursday morning. In Illinois, 96% of the state is now in a “severe drought” up from 66% last week. In Iowa, new data shows more than half of the state is dealing with a “severe drought” growing from last week’s 12%. You can see the maps for yourself here:

The dry, hot heat is the worst the nation has felt in 56 years, according to the National Climatic Data Center. It’s taking a toll on everything from cattle to corn, from farmers to consumers. Analysts warn that this drought could raise the price of grain as well as impact meat and dairy prices.

The dire conditions prompted the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to speak out Thursday morning after sitting down with President Barack Obama. Vilsack says Congress needs to step in and help struggling farmers.

“We’ve got thousands and thousands of farm families and ranch families across the country who are suffering today, in 29 states,” said Vilsack. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue. We obviously need to help these folks. This is why we have a safety net. This is why we need passage of a food, farm and jobs bill quickly. It is why we need to help these livestock producers in particular. It would impact and affect, obviously over the long haul, food prices — not as dramatically as some people would expect, because farmers only get 14 cents of every food dollar. But it is still going to impact consumers as well.”

That is because corn prices are rising. In fact, September futures spiked at more than $8.00 a bushel during overnight electronic trading, breaking a record. Soybeans have also reached all-time highs. You can watch trading prices live on the Chicago Board of Trade’s website here:

As of Thursday, 1,297 counties — approximately one-third of the counties in the U.S. — have been designated as national disaster areas.