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Drought can reduce both water availability and water quality necessary for productive farms, ranches, and grazing lands, resulting in significant negative direct and indirect economic impacts to the agricultural sector. Drought can also contribute to insect outbreaks, increases in wildfire and altered rates of carbon, nutrient, and water cycling—all of which can impact agricultural production, critical ecosystem functions that underpin agricultural systems, and the livelihoods and health of farming communities.

U.S. Crops and Livestock in Drought

Corn Produced by County
U.S. Drought Monitor
Soybeans Produced by County
U.S. Drought Monitor
Hay Produced by County
U.S. Drought Monitor
Cattle Produced by County
U.S. Drought Monitor
Wheat Produced by County
U.S. Drought Monitor

counties with crops experiencing drought (D1–D4)
42.6 Million
acres of crops experiencing drought (D1–D4)
5.5 Million
beef cattle experiencing drought (D1–D4)
counties with drought declarations
Key Issues

Agricultural Production Losses

The primary direct economic impact of drought in the agricultural sector is crop failure and pasture losses. These costs are often passed on to consumers through increased prices and/or they may be offset through government disaster assistance programs. Indirect impacts of drought in the sector can include reduced supplies to downstream industries, such as food processors, and reduced demand for inputs, such as fertilizer and farm labor. The non-market impacts of production losses include mental health strain on farmers.

Decreased Water Availability for Agriculture

The depletion of water availability in soils causes significant declines in crops and livestock productivity. In addition, surface and groundwater supplies may decline during drought, affecting water availability and increasing costs to access water for crop or forage irrigation and watering livestock. With a return to normal precipitation, soil moisture typically recovers long before surface and groundwater supplies are replenished.

Pests and Diseases

Drought, coupled with high temperatures, may expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases that affect crops, forage, and livestock.

Specialty Crops

Most specialty crops (such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and medicinal herbs) are more vulnerable to drought than field crops and have a higher value per unit of land/water. They may therefore represent a higher risk for experiencing economic loss in drought if the crop water demand exceeds water supply.

Related Content

Data & Maps | Agriculture

This collection ranges from easy-to-understand maps depicting drought severity to experimental, satellite-based composite maps primarily used by climate monitoring professionals. 

Drought Relief, Recovery, and Support

A number of federal and state agencies provide relief and recovery support for drought impacts. Find more resources here.

Research & Learn | Flash Drought

Flash droughts can cause extensive damage to agriculture and economies if they are not predicted and discovered early. Learn more about flash drought here.

Research & Learn | Monitoring Drought

Drought monitoring involves measuring changes in precipitation, temperature, and surface and groundwater supplies, among other factors. Learn more about the importance of monitoring drought.