This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report , from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglish The United States is suffering its worst drought in almost 60 years. Moderate to extremely dry conditions spread to 55 percent of the country in June. That was the most since December of 1956. The National Climatic Data Center also said high temperatures in June added to the warmest 12-month period on record. Recordkeeping began in 1895. The drought map showed that conditions improved in the Southeast in June compared to May. But they intensified from the Midwest to the Great Plains and much of the West. Predictions through the end of October suggest that the drought is likely to improve in areas of the Southwest and Southeast. But the drought is expected to continue or intensify in large parts of the country. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with President Obama in July. Mr. Vilsack said the drought has severely affected corn and soybean crops. The United States is the world's leading producer of corn and soybeans. Mr. Vilsack said: "Thirty-eight percent of our corn crop as of today is rated as poor to very poor, 30 percent of our soybeans, poor to very poor." Most of the affected states are in the southern half of the country. But officials said farmlands in the north are now drying up as well. The drought has pushed up prices for corn and soybeans. Both are used in food production and for animal feed. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported a 20 percent jump in maize and wheat prices in the month of July. Wheat prices are up as hot, dry weather affects production in the Black Sea region. In the United States, ranchers may quickly reduce the size of their herds of animals rather than pay higher feed prices to feed them. That increased supply of meat would reduce meat prices in the short-term. President Obama has cut the interest rate on disaster loans for farmers and made it easier for affected areas to receive government financial assistance. At the same time, farmers are waiting to see what Congress does with the farm bill, a major piece of legislation renewed every five years. The Senate has passed a version that would end direct payments to farmers but help pay for crop insurance. The plan would save money. But the Senate version is different from legislation in the House of Representatives, and Congress needs to reach a compromise. The current farm bill ends at the end of September. And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. I'm Carolyn Presutti. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 24Jul2012)
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