More than half of the country is facing moderate to extreme drought conditions, and farmers aren't the only ones feeling the effects.
What it means for readers:
-- Food: Corn and bean prices are rising, not only for the crops that we eat or that make our cereals and sugars but for feed corn, which feed livestock. Check local meat, egg, dairy, cereal and soda prices at your supermarkets. Have they risen recently? What other types of foods are going up in price?
-- Gas: Ethanol futures are rising, and the U.S. is required to use 13.6 billion gallons of renewable fuels such as ethanol this year under a government mandate, known as the Renewable Fuels Standard. What are prices for ethanol and regular gasoline -- some of which is mixed with a certain percentage of ethanol -- doing in your area?
-- Fairs and farmers markets: Talk with growers at your farmers markets and fairs for their perspective on the drought and heat. Ask 4-H participants at your upcoming fairs how their families are coping.
-- Other countries: Ask your state agriculture department where your state's crops go, and what they're used for. Do they become food or fuel for other countries? Show on a map the path your state's crops take.
-- Implement manufacturers: John Deere has seen stock prices drop -- is your local economy affected by farm-equipment manufacturers or other farm- or livestock-related companies?
-- Lawns and gardens: Finally, many homeowners are worried about their lawn and trees. Ask garden centers for tips on keeping trees and plants fed, and lawn-care companies for their advice on dead vs. dormant grass. Has your area imposed watering restrictions?