Promising forecast on the horizon for Midwest farmers

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Cold and snow have shackled planting efforts in the Midwest.

From cold and wet conditions in the northern and central United States to heavy rains in the south, farmers are facing serious field work and planting delays. In contrast, drought weary growers in the southwest are anticipating significant crop moisture shortages...again.

"We've had the coldest spring in the north central part of this country since 2014, with some places recording 20 degrees below normal temperatures," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson, as he shared an update for the balance of the spring season, crop prospects in light of planting and a look ahead into the summer.

Anderson said the La Niña climate pattern — a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean — was one of the main drivers impacting weather in the U.S., especially during the late fall, winter and early spring. 

This weather phenomenon impacted the Jet Stream, allowing colder weather to balloon further south over the past three and a half months. 

Anderson said a second weather development in the high latitudes around the Arctic Circle was responsible for the below normal temperatures that lingered into mid-April. 

"The high pressure ridges set up around Alaska and Siberia in the western part of the world, which shut off any flow out of the Pacific Ocean into the interior part of north America," he said. "When we have Pacific flow, we have milder conditions."

Another round of high pressure set up over Greenland and Iceland and forced colder air out of the polar regions further south.

"The effect of all that is we had a darned cold scenario to finish out winter and go into spring," he said. "Going forth we will probably see a slow improvement on things, but we're looking at the slowest start to fieldwork that we've had in the last four years."

Bryce Anderson

Warming trend

With the La Niña feature winding down, Anderson says the Pacific Ocean is slowly warming, contributing to milder weather throughout the late summer and into the fall season.

As the snow cover recedes from farm fields, it will take some time for the soil to warm enough for farmers to begin planting. According to the latest USDA report, soil temperatures recorded in northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas were in the range of 35 degrees.

According to the Wisconsin Crop Progress and Condition report for the week ending April 22, 2018, while snow was melting quickly across the state, recharging dry soils, it may be a few weeks before central and northern Wisconsin can begin planting due to deep snow and still frozen ground.

"Fieldwork was getting underway in central Nebraska, but the overall start to this season is going to be slow. At this time last year 15% of the corn was in the ground. However, only 6% of the corn crop was planted at this time back in 2014—and we ended up having a record growing season," Anderson pointed out. 

A big reason for that success, despite the late start, was attributed to slightly below normal temperatures during the summer months—allowing crops to go through pollination, flowering, and fill stages with very little stress.

Anderson says analogs from years with similar weather patterns show similar promise.

"Yes, we're getting a slow start but going into the end of the month of April and early May, weather conditions do look more favorable for fieldwork and planting progress, with higher temperatures and variable precipitation," he said. 

As far as precipitation, Anderson says farmers can take solace in the forecast which shows the Midwest as having a drier tendency.

"The idea that precipitation might tail off a little bit and allow soils to warm up and equipment to get out in the fields is a most promising feature in my opinion," he said.

While drought conditions look to ease up a bit in the Dakotas, Anderson says the southern plains region will continue to suffer from lack of moisture.

"There is hardly any dry considerations even hinted at for the Midwest and even into the northern plains," he said. "The message to me regarding prospects of decent moisture for most of the Midwest in the growing season are really pretty good."

He noted that temperatures are expected to be slightly below normal during the heart of the summer.

"Because we are looking at a later planting season and because of how slow things have been in getting underway, we're going to need all the advantages that those temperatures can give the crops to completely do their work," he said. "The end of the season is going to be important in that we don't have an early frost. And at this point I would not be predicting that."

Drier weather may also play a role in downsizing Brazil's crop forecast, Anderson said.

"It's that time of year when the dry season is setting in and south central Brazil is turning dry which could have an adverse impact on the corn crop," he said. "There might not be as much corn coming out of there as they predicted."