Soggy weather forecast dampens spring planting plans

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Below normal temperatures and rainy overcast weather has allowed little improvement of soil conditions across Wisconsin.

Rain, rain go away is the well worn mantra Wisconsin farmers seem to be muttering under their breath as the cold, rainy weather continued into the month of May.

Below normal temperatures and rainy overcast weather has kept farmers out of the fields and allowed little improvement in soil conditions across the state. In addition, cold soils hampered the emergence of planted crops and the copious rainfall did little to green up some alfalfa fields that fell victim to winterkill.

When will it end?

So, when exactly will this endless cycle of miserable weather end? Bryce Anderson, DTN senior ag meteorologist says a break in the weather pattern should be on its way following Mother's Day weekend.

"This slow spring is going to continue and I think it's going to last well into the latter half of May. There's going to be some work here and there, but it's going to be uneven in my view," Anderson said during DTN's Spring Planting Forecast Update webinar. "As far as getting more of a generally wide open prospect for fieldwork, I don't think it's going to be until for sure the week after Mother's Day and probably in that May 20 timeframe."

Anderson said farmers are in the "tough situation" because of the cold, wet weather pattern that has plagued farmers across the central part of the country for weeks now. The weather has not only saturated farm fields and flooded cities and cropland along major rivers, it has also caused problems for moving grain into export channels and getting fertilizer into main crop areas of the country.

Farmers took advantage of a few brief windows of sun to spread manure.

Farmers have also been hampered in finding dry enough ground to enter farm fields in order to spread manure.

"Of course, and then you think back to last fall when we literally had so much rain that the harvest was late and a lot of fieldwork or fertilizer application didn't get done," Anderson said. "So, it's been a challenging springtime for farmers for sure."

Stuck in place

Anderson said the current weather pattern as of late bears a strong resemblance to the weather farmers faced last fall. A stationary area of upper level high pressure has been pushing colder weather down from the Arctic, with yet another high pressure ridge in the southeastern U.S. that has created a confluence across the South Central Plains and the Midwest.

Temperatures in the Upper Midwest are projected to be below normal in mid-May with a warming trend appearing by the end of the month.

"It's created a weather scenario that's just kind of stuck in place," Anderson said of the cold, rainy weather. "It's been a problem getting soils to warm up, and even if the ground were drier, the cold temperatures would be unfavorable for germination."

The stubborn weather pattern has put a damper on the planting of row crops. Unfortunately, the heavy rain may have a detrimental impact on future yields.

"Excessive rainfall can have as much of a negative impact on yields as extreme drought," Anderson said. And who would have thought that the adage 'rain makes grain' would become a big problem instead?"

In Wisconsin, some farmers are nervously watching their feed supplies dwindle as they keep one eye on the weather forecast.

"Some cattle were taken out on pasture due to low feed inventories even though the pastures are not yet ideal," said a Crawford and Grant County reporter for the most recent Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report. "The long cold winter and late spring and depressed farm markets are starting to take a toll on morale."

To plant or not to plant

Anderson says he would not be at all surprised to see prevented planting acreage increase due to cold, saturated soil conditions. The average prevented planting acreage is around 1.5 million acres.

"We've seen years where prevented planting acres was up in the 2 to 3 million acre bracket," Anderson said. "One of those years was 2013 and another one was 2015. And I think we're going to be in that category again this year."

A stationary area of upper level high pressure has kept colder air and rain in the forecast for much of central U.S.. However, the week after Mother's Day into Memorial Day will usher in a milder trend of weather, allowing farmers to get into their fields.

Once farmers are able to get crops in the ground, Anderson says the growing season weather pattern looks favorable.

In the June through August timeframe, DTN forecast charts show temperatures at a near to below normal track for the northern Corn Belt into the northern Plains and Canadian prairies and near to above normal from about Interstate 80 in northern Illinois and then south, Anderson predicted.

El Niño

"In the southwest we could see temperatures that are definitely above normal. There's a pretty strong signal that way and this is an El Niño feature."

Anderson says forecast models show above normal levels of precipitation over much of the Midwest June through August — a prime time for corn pollination and soybean pod setting.

"The El Niño feature tends to be more favorable when you think about the middle part of the summer in terms of crop conditions," he said. "One thing that could get in our way in the fall season is the higher likelihood of more precipitation. I don't think that's out of the question. Am I calling for weather as wet as we saw last fall? No, I'm not. But there could be some periods of pretty heavy rain."

Anderson said the weather trends of the past nine months are part of a larger, long-term trend.

Bryce Anderson

"Global temperatures are showing an increase, and with these long-term warming trends particularly in the northern latitudes, the result is the increase of heavy downpours we've seen across the central U.S. and these rainfall occurrences that approach extreme categories are increasing in number," he pointed out.

Global bounty

Crop farmers in Brazil and Argentina have seen ample moisture this growing season and expect to harvest strong corn and soybean crops.

El Niño is a rainmaker in Argentina that experienced drought last year and the crops are responding, Anderson said.

"They're going to have production approaching 50% larger than a year ago and that obviously is adding to the world supply," he said. "The entire Black Sea region is also going to have plenty of grain to offer the export market because of these conditions we're seeing right now."

But Anderson urges U.S. farmers who have parked their planters for the past six weeks to take heart.

"This current weather pattern is going to start showing a milder trend so that we can get out in the field and I think we're looking at the last half of May. I know that's late and it's hard to be real confident of even that due to the way things have acted," he said. "But the trend is consistently showing that type of potential."