(CNN) - More than half of all U.S. counties have been designated disaster zones thanks to the widespread drought. The Agriculture Department added 218 counties in 12 states to its list today because of damage and losses caused by the excessive heat and lack of rain.
An economist with the agency says it's the most severe and expensive drought in 25 years. The USDA reports nearly 75 percent of the nation's cattle land is in a drought-stricken region. And it says more than half of the nation's corn crops are in poor condition.
The agency says the harsh conditions could force food prices to surge as much as 4.5% next year.