ST. LOUIS (AP) - Farmers in the nation's breadbasket who only recently were praying for an end to a withering drought are now pining for enough sunshine and heat to dry their muddy fields in time to plant their corn and other crops.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says only 12 percent of the nation's cornfields have been planted. That's about a quarter of the amount farmers had planted by this point in the season over the last five years.
In Iowa, which is the nation's biggest corn producer, only 8 percent of the corn crop is in the ground. That's down from 62 percent at this point last year.
Farmer John Reifsteck says if he has to wait much longer, he may have to plant less corn on his 1,800-acre central Illinois farm.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Rain that moved across the Midwest in the past week has helped ease drought conditions for some farmers.
The weekly drought monitor report from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska was released Thursday. It shows the rain that caused flooding in some areas of the Midwest helped decrease the drought area from the upper Midwest into the western corn belt and central portions of the Rockies and Great Plains.
But there's a new problem: The heavy rain has left fields muddy in Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois. And that means corn planting will be behind schedule.
All of the country's drought-parched states aren't out of the woods. The report shows drought is intensifying from western Texas into northern California.
The agency's latest update shows soil conditions in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, Jefferson County and eastern St. Charles County have returned to normal after almost 9 months of drought. Western St. Charles, Lincoln and most of Franklin Counties are still listed as "dryer than normal."
The southeastern third of Missouri, as well as southern and central Illinois had been declared drought-free weeks ago.
The river reached an historic low at St. Louis on January first - the ninth lowest level ever recorded, and just a foot-and-a-half above the record low. Since then, snowfall and rain across the Midwest have brought the Mississippi back up to normal levels.
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they believe the worst is over. But Petersen cautioned that low water levels could return if the drought persists in the Midwest.
From his acreage near Edwardsville, Campbell welcomed the snow. Like many farms, his soil in southwestern Illinois craves any moisture after a bone-dry growing season last year.
Climatologists say a foot of snow is roughly equal to an inch of water, depending on the snow's density. Campbell's region isn't getting quite that much, but the snow is important to growers of winter wheat. That crop goes dormant over winter before resuming growth in the spring, along the way using snow cover as a protective insulating blanket.
The latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor update shows more than half of the continental U.S. still in some form of drought.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been using two dredges, one from Memphis, Tenn., the other from St. Louis, to help keep the river channel clear. The work has been especially important this winter because the river level has been near historic lows, threatening barge traffic.
The corps says the dredges need seasonal maintenance, and crews are due for time off. The dredging season normally ends in November but was extended in the so-far successful fight to keep the river open.
The two dredges removed more than 8 million cubic yards of sediment in the last six months in the area between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. The corps says that is more than twice the normal amount.