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The USDA foreshadowed the new, lower yield projections earlier this week, when it reported half of the nation’s corn crop and 39 percent of its soybeans were rated poor or very poor. The nation hasn’t seen drought damage this bad since 1988.

Friday’s USDA report amplified the troubling picture painted a day earlier when the latest weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map showed drought conditions continue to worsen in key farming states in the Great Plains. That update showed the expanse in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — in Iowa jump from less than 31 percent to nearly 70 percent. Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska also drought conditions deepen.

Federal scientists say this July was the hottest on record, smoking out even the sweltering temperatures set in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Wednesday that the stretch from August 2011 through July this year was the warmest 12-month period the U.S. has experienced.