Drought worsens as disaster declarations increase

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New information released on Thursday suggests that the 2012 drought continues to expand. And it's likely to worsen before it gets better.

The USDA disaster declaration just added more than 100 counties in Illinois and Iowa. It now extends into Scott and Rock Island counties.

"If it helps one person, it's worthwhile," said Taylor Ridge farmer Phil Fuhr, who also serves as president of the Rock Island County Farm Bureau.

Most farmers like Fuhr already have crop insurance. The drought designation will also make low interest loans available.

"As long as it's available and there aren't a lot of hoops to jump through the process, it's going to be helpful," he said.

Thursday is another day for hot, dry extreme weather, but this sixth generation farmer remains among the lucky ones in Rock Island County.

"The kernels right now are a little smaller than they normally would be," he said.

Timely isolated showers helped to save his corn crop. But threatening conditions aren't far away.

"Everything is stressed," he said. "Corn yields will be down significantly from our average."

At a time when 71% of the Illinois corn is rated poor to very poor, the disaster declaration comes at a critical time.

The move also opens more conservation land for livestock haying and grazing. Farmers will get an extension to make unpaid crop insurance payments.

"The crop insurance program is really what a lot of farmers are going to be falling back on this year," he said.

The declaration won't be a cure-all. Farmers also need a disaster assistance package along with a new or extended Farm Bill.

"We have to plan for our upcoming year in 2013," Fuhr concluded. "We have to start budgeting and making plans."

Plans that are taking a lot of twists and turns along with this uncertain growing season across Illinois and Iowa.