WALTONVILLE, Ill. — The nation's widest drought in decades is spreading, with more than half of the continental United States now in some stage of drought and most of the rest enduring abnormally dry conditions.

Only in the 1930s and the 1950s has a drought covered more land, according to federal figures released Monday. So far, there's little risk of a Dust Bowl-type catastrophe, but crop losses could mount if rain doesn't come soon.

In its monthly drought report, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., announced that 55 percent of the country was in a moderate to extreme drought at the end of June. The parched conditions expanded last month in the West, the Great Plains and the Midwest, fueled by the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record, the report said.

Topsoil has turned dry while "crops, pastures and rangeland have deteriorated at a rate rarely seen in the last 18 years," the report said.

The percentage of affected land is the largest since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was covered by drought, and it rivals even some years in the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, though experts point out that this year's weather has been milder than that period, and farming practices have been vastly improved since then.

In southern Illinois, Kenny Brummer has lost 800 acres of corn that he grows to feed his 400 head of cattle and 30,000 hogs. Now he's scrambling to find hundreds of thousands of bushels of replacement feed.

"Where am I going to get that from? You have concerns about it every morning when you wake up," said Brummer, who farms near Waltonville. "The drought is bad, but that's just half of the problem on this farm."

Around a third of the nation's corn crop has been hurt, with some of it so badly damaged that farmers have already cut down their withered plants to feed to cattle. As of Sunday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, 38 percent of the corn crop was in poor or very poor condition, compared with 30 percent a week earlier.

"This is definitely the epicenter – right in the heart of the Midwest," said climatologist Mark Svoboda with the Nebraska-based National Drought Mitigation Center.

It's all a huge comedown for farmers who had expected a record year when they sowed 96.4 million acres in corn, the most since 1937. The Department of Agriculture initially predicted national average corn yields of 166 bushels per acre this year.

The agency has revised that projection down to 146, and more reductions are possible if conditions don't improve.

The lower projection is still an improvement over the average yields of around 129 bushels a decade ago. But already tight supplies and fears that the drought will get worse before it gets better have been pushing up grain prices, which are likely to translate into higher food prices for consumers, particularly for meat and poultry.

Monday's report was based on data going back to 1895 called the Palmer Drought Index. It feeds into the widely watched and more detailed U.S. Drought Monitor, which reported last week that 61 percent of the continental U.S. was in a moderate to exceptional drought. However, the weekly Drought Monitor goes back only 12 years, so climatologists use the Palmer Drought Index for comparing droughts before 2000.

Climatologists have labeled this year's dry spell a "flash drought" because it developed in a matter of months, not over multiple seasons or years.

The current drought is similar to the droughts of the 1950s, which weren't as intense as those of the 1930s, said Jake Crouch, a climatologist with the National Climatic Data Center. And farming has changed a lot since the Dust Bowl era. Better soil conservation has reduced erosion, and modern hybrids are much more resistant to drought.

But Crouch said it's important to understand that this drought is still unfolding.

"We can't say with certainty how long this might last now. Now that we're going up against the two largest droughts in history, that's something to be wary of," Crouch said. "The coming months are really going to be the determining factor of how big a drought it ends up being."

In northwest Kansas, Brian Baalman's cattle pastures have dried up, along with probably half of his corn crop. He desperately needs some rain to save the rest of it, and he's worried what will happen if the drought lingers into next year.

"I have never seen this type of weather before like this. A lot of old timers haven't either," Baalman said. "I just think we are seeing history in the making."

The federal government is already moving to help farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced plans for streamlining the aid process. A major goal is to cut the time it takes to declare an agricultural disaster area. He also reduced interest rates for emergency loans and made it cheaper for farmers to graze livestock or cut hay on lands otherwise locked up in a conservation program.

Some state governments are stepping in, too. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency in 42 counties last week to speed up the issuance of permits for temporarily using stream or lake water for irrigation.

During a visit Monday to a southern Illinois corn and soybean farm, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced that drought-affected farmers would be eligible for state debt restructuring and loan programs in addition to the aid the USDA announced last week.

Quinn ventured into a corn field where he spent some time looking for an actual ear of corn. When he found one and peeled off the husk, there were no kernels.

Two-thirds of Illinois is in what's classified as a severe drought or worse. Neighboring Indiana is even worse, with 70 percent in at least a severe drought.

Brummer could normally count on corn yields of 170 bushels per acre. He expects to get just 10 bushels this year, if he gets anything at all.

The top of the cornstalks are an unhealthy pale green, he said. Many of them have no ears, and "if there are there are a few kernels, they don't seem to know if they should die or make a grain."

Crop insurance will cover up to 150 bushels per acre. But no coverage is available for Brummer's livestock, so he figures he'll lose $350,000 to $400,000 on that side of the operation.

Not long ago, Brummer rejoiced along with countless other Midwest growers about getting their crops in the ground early.

"It looked really good until about a month ago," he said. "Then the concerns started, and it's been downhill ever since."

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Karnowski reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press Writer Roxana Hegeman contributed to this story from Wichita, Kan.

Click through the photos below to view how the drought and heat waves have affected the U.S.:
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  • Brian Frendsen

    Brian Frandsen pours water over his head in an effort to cool off while building a cement block wall on Saturday, July 7, 2012 in Huntsville, Ala. (AP Photo/The Huntsville Times, Dave Dieter)

  • A dock extends into a dry cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind., Thursday, July 5, 2012. The reservoir is down 3.5 feet from normal levels. Oppressive heat is slamming the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren

  • Monique Miller

    U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Monique Miller drinks from a bottle of water as she delivers mail in the Feltonville section of Philadelphia on Saturday July 7, 2012. Temperatures of more than 100 degrees were forecast in Philadelphia and excessive heat warnings were issued for several states in the Midwest as a heat wave continued. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

  • A cow looks for something to eat as it grazes in a dry pasture southwest of Hays, Kansas in a July 6, 2012 photo. A new report shows the drought gripping the United States is the widest since 1956. The monthly State of the Climate drought report released Monday, July 16, 2012 by the National Climactic Data Center says 55 percent of the continental U.S. is in a moderate to extreme drought. That's the most since December 1956, when 58 percent of the country was covered by drought. (AP Photo/The Hays Daily News, Steven Hausler)

  • Steve Niedbalski shows his drought and heat stricken corn while chopping it down for feed Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in Nashville Ill. Farmers in parts of the Midwest are dealing with the worst drought in nearly 25 years. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • A marshal is treated for heat exhaustion on the 18th green during the first round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament, Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Kohler, Wis. Oppressive heat is slamming the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren

  • The gate is closed on a boat ramp leading to a dry cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind., Monday, July 16, 2012. The reservoir is down nearly 6 feet from normal levels and being lowered 1 foot every five days to provide water for Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • A sun bear reacts to triple-digit temperatures at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Neb., Friday, July 6, 2012. The temperature reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.5 Celsius) Friday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

  • Perspiration collects on construction worker David Macmullen's face in the afternoon heat, Friday, July 6, 2012, in Philadelphia.

  • A sheep stands in front of a large fan in its pen at the All-American Junior Sheep Show at the Iowa state fairgrounds, Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Des Moines, Iowa. Oppressive heat is slamming the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren

  • Concrete worker Lenny Rose pours water over his head in an effort to cool off from the extreme high temperatures while building a commercial industrial park during a record breaking heat wave that is over most of the country, Thursday, July 5, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Wyatt Young, 5, cools off in a fountain set up outside Busch Stadium before a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins Friday, July 6, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

  • Boats sit in the bottom mud at the dock in the west cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind., Thursday, July 5, 2012. The reservoir is down 3.5 feet from normal levels. Oppressive heat is slamming the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren

  • Nia McCall, 8, plays on the "Sprayground" at Keeley Park in McLeansville, N.C. on Friday, June 29, 2012. A record-breaking heat wave swept across the southeast starting Friday and is expected to last through Sunday. (AP Photo/Burlington Times-News, Scott Muthersbaugh)

  • DROUGHT

    Farmer Joe Fischer holds ears of corn showing the variety of kernal development Thursday, July 12, 2012, at Fischer Farms Inc. in Owensboro, Ky. Normally the silks would already be brown, Fischer said. "There is no pollen left because the silks were delayed. . . because it has been too hot and dry," Fischer said. All five Owensboro-area counties have been designated primary disaster areas because of drought. (AP Photo/The Messenger-Inquirer, John Dunham)

  • The sun rises Sunday, July 15, 2012, in Pleasant Plains, Ill. Corn stalks are struggling in the heat and continuing drought that has overcome most of the country. All of Illinois is officially in a drought, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn plans a trip to southern Illinois to discuss the state's plans for responding to dry conditions. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Arlington County residents pass the time in the Central Public Library after it was made an official cooling station in Arlington, Va., Saturday, June 30, 2012. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency Saturday after a powerful storm killed at least six people in the state and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands, leaving them without air-conditioning in the middle of a blistering heat wave.(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Lee Shinn wears one of the umbrella shade hats he sells to beat the heat at the corner of Jackson and Springdale in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, July 6, 2012. With temperatures again reaching the 100 degree mark, Shinns shady solution is a steal at three dollars a piece. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Brandon Dill)

  • Tanya Winters cools off in a fountain at Butler Park in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday June 26, 2012. Tuesday's high temperature of 109 was the highest ever recorded in June in Austin. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)

  • A the thermometer on the sign at Cincinnati Federal Savings and Loan on Glenway Avenue at Sunset Avenue on the East and West Price Hill line reads 101 degrees, in Cincinnati, Thursday June 28, 2012. Nate Mackey holds a towel and a cup of water as he crosses Sunset Avenue. (AP Photo/The Enquirer, Glenn Hartong)

  • In this Monday, July 2, 2012, photo, visitors to the Smoky Mountains float on the Little River in Townsend, Tenn. The National Weather Service has crunched some end-of-June numbers that give dimension to the heat wave. In Nashville, June continued the trend of above-normal temperatures for an eighth consecutive month. June went into the records averaging 1.3 degrees above normal, but most people will dwell on the last days of the month that set an all-time heat record for Nashville at 109 degrees on Friday. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Michael Patrick)

  • John Rohlfing

    John Rohlfing, 38, wipes off his face as he works on his the construction of his new home Thursday, July 5, 2012, in North Aurora, Ill. He started at 6:00 a.m. and quit at 11:00 a.m. because of triple digit temperatures and the safety in those conditions. Oppressive heat is slamming the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren

  • In this July 11, 2012 photo, Steve Niedbalski chops down his drought and heat stricken corn for feed in Nashville, Ill. All of Illinois is officially in a drought, and Gov. Pat Quinn plans a trip to southern Illinois to discuss the state's plans for responding to dry conditions. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Julie Rhoades, James Rhoades

    Julie and James Rhoades, of Brazoria, Texas, sit in the shade of their umbrella to avoid the hot sun as they watch a World Cup of Softball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, June 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • Aletta, a rough-legged hawk, flaps her wings as she gets a cooling shower from a hose at the Carolina Raptor Center in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, June 29, 2012. Temperatures were expected to exceed 100 degrees in the Charlotte area for the next several days. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Children cool off from the intense heat at a waterfront park on Friday, June 29, 2012, in downtown Louisville, Ky. The city endured a second straight day of triple-digit temperatures as a heat wave settled in across Kentucky. (AP Photo/Bruce Schreiner)

  • Gail Ballinger gives a fan to Virginia Elliott and Lisa Elliott Wednesday at the Salvation Army Social Services office in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Temperatures are expected to reach record levels by the weekend. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tim Barber)

  • Delores Smith loads a donated fan for her mother outside the Salvation Army Social Services building in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Temperatures are expected to reach record levels by the weekend. (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tim Barber)

  • A customer holds a blue bubblegum strawberry combo from Delta Snow, a shaved ice walkup business owned by 17-year-old James David Ingram, of Yazoo City, Miss., Wednesday, June 27, 2012. Ingram, who had applied for various jobs with no results, decided to start his own business and hopes the current heat wave will bring his new business a steady stream of customers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • Ruby Ellis, Margaret Gainey

    Ruby Ellis, 13, receives a shaved ice cup handed from Delta Snow co-owner Margaret Gainey, Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Yazoo City, Miss. Gainey and her grandson James David Ingram, 17, own the small business and appreciate the fact their trailer has air conditioning for the hot summer ahead. They hope the current heat wave brings their new business a steady stream of hot customers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

  • The sun rises above the horizon Wednesday morning, June 27, 2012 in Decatur, Ala. as roofer Mike Murphy cuts out blisters in the roof of Decatur High School. Much of Alabama is gripped in an early summer heat wave that has already sent the temperature over 100 degrees in some Alabama cities. To cope with the extreme heat, Murphy's work day starts at 5 a.m. and ends at 1:30 p.m. (AP Photo/The Decatur Daily, John Godbey)

  • In this photo provided by Coby Baalman, cattle drink from a tank being filled with hauled water because the windmill and underground pump can't keep up with the volume being consumed at the Baalman ranch Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in Menlo, Kan. Across the country, more than 900 heat records have been broken in the past week. If the forecasts hold, an intense heat wave gripping the center and western portion of the country could mean more will fall. (AP Photo/Courtesy Coby Baalman)

  • In this photo provided by Coby Baalman, ranch hand Terry Moss walks through a parched corn field Wednesday, June 27, 2012, in wheat stubble that hasn't grown much in the dry heat in Menlo, Kan. Across the country, more than 900 heat records have been broken in the past week. If the forecasts hold, an intense heat wave gripping the center and western portion of the country could mean more will fall. (AP Photo/Courtesy Coby Baalman)

  • In this photo provided by Charlie Wilson, a herd of Red Angus cattle stay close to a watering hole at the Wilson ranch Wednesday, June 27, 2012, near Lakeside, Neb. Across the country, more than 900 heat records have been broken in the past week. If the forecasts hold, an intense heat wave gripping the center and western portion of the country could mean more will fall. (AP Photo/Courtesy Charlie Wilson)

  • In this photo provided by Charlie Wilson, a herd of Red Angus cattle stay close to a watering hole and the windmill at the Wilson ranch Wednesday, June 27, 2012, near Lakeside, Neb. Across the country, more than 900 heat records have been broken in the past week. If the forecasts hold, an intense heat wave gripping the center and western portion of the country could mean more will fall. (AP Photo/Courtesy Charlie Wilson)

  • Corey Tipton, 9, Andrew Koestler, 11, Alexandria Tipton, 5, Anna Koestler, 9, and Zachary Tipton, 7, lie in the shallows of the Riverwalk at the Mud Island River Park in Memphis, Tenn. Tuesday, June 26, 2012. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Jim Weber)

  • Robert Mitchell

    Robert Mitchell, a brick mason with Professional Masonry from Birmingham, Ala., cools off with some cold water while working at the Belk Hudson Lofts construction site in downtown Huntsville, Ala., Sunday, July 1, 2012. Huntsville, Florence and other parts of northwest Alabama are under an excessive heat warning with forecasters show high temperatures breaking 100 degrees across the state. (AP Photo/The Huntsville Times,Glenn Baeske)

  • Justin Pegram, 4, plays on the "Sprayground" at Keeley Park in McLeansville, N.C. on Friday, June 29, 2012. A record-breaking heat wave swept across the southeast starting Friday and is expected to last through Sunday. (AP Photo/Burlington Times-News, Scott Muthersbaugh)

  • Anne Blaauwgeers

    Netherlands' Anne Blaauwgeers, right, wears a towel on her head to ward off the hot sun as she cheers from the dugout during the fourth inning of a World Cup of Softball game against Puerto Rico in Oklahoma City, Friday, June 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • Tourist and criminologist Luisa Sanchez picks through rocks at the foot of the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park during a days-long heat wave of above 90 degrees in New York, Thursday, July 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • Sophie

    Sophie, 3, from Connecticut, frolics with a water sprinkler set up at the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, rear, in Washington Saturday, July 7, 2012. The heat gripping much of the country is set to peak Saturday in many places, including some Northeast cities, where temperatures close to or surpassing 100 degrees are expected. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • Summer Santa Claus Tom Osborn of Taylor, Pa. a member of the Greater Scranton Jaycees, cools his feet in a pool of ice at Lackawanna County Courthouse Square during First Night festivities held in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania on Friday, July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Scranton Times-Tribune, Butch Comegys)

  • Avery Gass, 4, slips her way through streams of cooling water, Friday, July 6, 2012, at the Thorton Murphy Park splash pad in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review, Dan Pelle)

  • Steve Milewski uses a net to remove dead Northern Pike in Dean Lake in Plainfield Township near Grand Rapids, Mich. on Monday, July 9, 2012. The recent heat wave is blamed for raising the lake water temperature higher than the fish can tolerate. (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Chris Clark)

  • Kevin Sanabria

    Kevin Sanabria, 10, plays in a small waterfall in Trenton, N.J., Saturday, July, 7, 2012. People were coping as temperatures in the region climbed into the high 90s. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • Gabriel Salas

    Philadelphia firefighter Gabriel Salas, Engine 72, drinks a bottle of water after extinguishing a fire in an auto detailing shop in the Oxford Circle section of Philadelphia on Saturday, July 7, 2012. Temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit were forecast in Philadelphia and excessive heat warnings were issued for several states in the Midwest as a heat wave continued. (AP Photo/Joseph Kaczmarek)

  • Nia Bailey, Amari Swint

    Nia Bailey, 8, of Washington, left, and Amari Swint, 8, of Philadelphia, throw water balloons while in an inflatable pool during a seventh annual block party on Newton Street in northwest Washington, during record heat with temperatures in the triple digits, Saturday, July 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • Tracy Canty

    Tracy Canty, of Washington, wears a towel over his head against the sun and heat while cleaning off a grill in Washington, during record heat with temperatures in the triple digits, Saturday, July 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

  • Ryan Lankamp

    Gambler gets a cooling shower from Ryan Lankamp, left, of Shelbyville, Michigan, following competition in the Ranch Sorting Championship at State Fair Parkin Oklahoma City, Friday, July 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

  • Luis Saavevra shades from the heat with a giant U.S. flag umbrella as he plays chess on an over-sized board in Union Square as temperature reached the 90s on Friday, July 6, 2012 in New York. he National Weather Service reported late Thursday that the record-breaking heat that has baked the nation's midsection for several days was slowly moving into the mid-Atlantic states and Northeast. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • The sun rises Sunday, July 15, 2012, in Pleasant Plains, Ill. Corn stalks are struggling in the heat and continuing drought that has overcome most of the country. All of Illinois is officially in a drought, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn plans a trip to southern Illinois to discuss the state's plans for responding to dry conditions. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)