CHICAGO – Smithfield Foods Inc. took the unusual step of importing corn from Brazil to feed the company’s hogs, according to news reports.

A spokeswoman with the company confirmed Smithfield’s decision to use Brazilian corn following a report in the Financial Times that revealed meat companies were shipping corn from Brazil to the East Coast. Details about Smithfield’s shipments were not disclosed.

Drought continues to batter the nation’s corn crop, resulting in surging feed costs for producers and higher prices for meat and poultry. Damage to the corn crop is viewed as probably irreversible in what is considered to be the worst drought in more than 50 years.

The US Department of Agriculture said that in 18 major corn growing states, a total of 26 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent during the week of July 22, down 31 percent from the previous week. The proportion of the crop that was very poor to poor surged to 45 percent, up from 38 percent from the previous week. In the comparable year-ago period, 62 percent of the crop was rated good to excellent and only 14 percent was very poor to poor.

Much-needed rain in recent days led to optimism about crop conditions. Prices for corn were sharply lower July 23, when September corn futures declined 24 cents, closing at $7.90 a bushel.