Hot summer temperatures bring severe weather patterns, risk to crops

Amber Burke
Wisconsin State Farmer
This summer's forecast calls for higher temperatures and normal to above-normal precipitation which may be accompanied by severe weather.

As summer approaches, so does the threat of severe weather.

"Looking at the NOAA official summer temperature outlook, a greater number of storms are expected, as the forecast calls for higher temperatures and normal to above-normal precipitation," according to Kevin McNew, Chief Economist for Farmers Business Network (FBN).

For wheat farmers, hail is of particular concern this year, as market prices have skyrocketed to record highs, hopefully leading to an extremely profitable harvest. However, threats posed by Mother Nature have the potential to upend these plans as wheat stalks are easily damaged by hail, especially at the more mature growth stage. Even moderate hail damage to a wheat crop at the start of heading can result in losses that are about 50% of a normal yield.

Wheat plants are especially vulnerable to severe weather including hail and high winds.

"This year is looking quite unpredictable in terms of severe weather patterns," says McNew. "The vast change in hot and cold temperatures is causing a major disruption in the atmosphere and hovering right over the center of the United States."

Just last weekend, Wisconsin saw an outbreak of a derecho windstorm which was quite unusual and brought hurricane force winds to the entire Midwest.

MORE: Strong line of severe storms packs a punch

"Overall, this summer looks like it will be one with some intense severe weather," McNew added. 

According to the latest USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service – Crop Production report, winter wheat production in Wisconsin is forecast at 17.0 million bushels, 98% above last year’s 8.63 million bushels. Based on current conditions, the state’s winter wheat yield is forecast at 71.0 bushels per acre, up 2.0 bushels from last year. Wisconsin winter wheat growers intend to harvest 240,000 acres for grain, up 92% from 2020.

Straight-line winds in excess of 50 mph battered cornfields across Wisconsin from Wausau down to Waukesha on July 28-29, 2021.

After wheat, McNew suggests corn is the next most susceptible crop to hail damage and severe weather elements. During pollination, extreme temperatures and harsh weather can reduce full kernel development and ear quality. In addition, hail storms can defoliate corn plants, shred leaves, bruise or damage stalks, and bruise or damage ears leading to significant yield loss. 

After a hailstorm, potential yield loss in a soybean crop can result from leaf area reduction, plant bruising, or stand loss. However, soybean plants have the ability to compensate for damaged leaves or reduced stands.

McNew suggests that there is no cause for concern yet, as Wisconsin is still early in the corn and soybean planting stages. Plants should remain safe until at least later in June and into July when they are at a more vulnerable growth stage.

Corn planted acreage is estimated at 3.95 million acres, with an estimated 2.94 million acres to be harvested for grain in Wisconsin, according to the latest USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service - Crop Production report, and corn production is forecast at 506 million bushels.

Based on conditions as of November 1, yields are expected to average 172.0 bushels per acre, unchanged from the October 1 forecast but down 1.0 bushel per acre from last year. Soybean production is forecast at 112 million bushels. The yield is forecast at 54.0 bushels per acre, unchanged from the October forecast but up 2.0 bushels from 2020. Soybean planted acreage is estimated at 2.10 million acres with 2.07 million acres to be harvested.

"In 2020 there was a huge derecho wind storm that devastated about 25% of Iowa's corn crop," McNew says, "some of which was recovered, but at lower yields and some for a total loss.

"That was a really powerful awakening of Mother Nature's fury that wind and intense wind storms of that size are becoming more prominent because of these volatile weather patterns. And, with crops at such highly elevated prices, it is important for farmers to look at how to handle that risk through insurance products, for example," McNew added.

If growers want to protect their crop against potential weather devastation, FBN Director of Crop Insurance Eric Sorensen, says farmers can purchase crop insurance under two main categories: Multiple Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) and private products.

MPCI generally covers naturally occurring perils and also price volatility in the event of revenue policies, Sorenson explains. 

Private products can cover specific perils, the largest one being crop hail coverage. Other examples include; wind coverage on corn, optional replant coverage, parametric coverage which uses temperature and/or rainfall extremes as a proxy to crop loss. 

Multiple Peril Crop Insurance (MPCI) through a specified sales closing date, which is specific to each crop, county and plan of insurance. Most insurance companies do offer same-day hail coverage, unless the farmer discloses that they've had prior hail damage, or the company has knowledge of prior hail in the area, Sorenson says.

"Crop insurance can provide peace of mind for farmers, for when or if the unexpected happens, they will have the financial security to stay in business and go on to plant the next season," says Sorenson.