Along with Santa Claus, La Niña blew into town in December. How long this cool Pacific water will last is a key question in determining U.S. growing season weather. Should it stick around, there's a chance we'll see planting delays again this year.
We'll go into spring with ample moisture. As the map below shows, a major portion of corn/soybean ground is very moist. Even normal precipitation into the planting sea-son will raise worries about delays. Markets could react strongly, especially given that many producers held off fertilizer application last fall and will need extra time to plant this year. (In December, more than half were still undecided what they will plant this spring; see "Outlook".)
In mid-January, parts of the Upper Midwest had already exceeded last year's record snowfall. "I'm very concerned that in the Red River Valley and the Dakotas, across to Wisconsin and Michigan, if we don't have brief thaws that let the snow melt gradually, we could see substantial flooding of the Red River, Minnesota River, the Upper Mississippi and maybe the Illinois and Ohio Rivers," says Fred Gesser of Planalytics in Wayne, Pa.
"Current conditions point to a similar start to last year," he says. Gesser believes it could be wet enough to delay corn planting in the Upper Midwest down into northwest Illinois and possibly some parts of the Ohio River Valley.
Pacific temps. In mid-January, the Climate Prediction Center reported that neutral Pacific temperatures suddenly turned into modest La Niña conditions in late December. Oceanic and atmospheric indicators suggest weak La Niña conditions are still in place, but a return to neutral could happen rapidly. Although near-normal values are expected to appear by early spring, Pacific Ocean temperatures may remain somewhat below normal through early summer.
"This raises the concern that the growing season could start out similar to last year's, with a wet and cool spring," says Allen Motew, a meteorologist with QT Weather. "However, although spring may be wetter than normal, I don't expect anywhere near the delays in planting that we experienced last year."
In fact, "if La Niña conditions shift to neutral earlier than last year, we would not expect unusual problems with excess moisture at planting," says Elywynn Taylor, Iowa State University agronomist. "The chance of extremely high temperatures in midsummer would also be reduced," as happened last year.
Larry Acker of 3F Forecasts in Polo, Ill., believes the Corn Belt will have a cold beginning but not a particularly rainy one. "It will be colder than normal nearly all season," he says, and late frosts are even possible.
Neutral summer. Looking further ahead, Motew says, "late summer and fall promise to fall solidly in neutral conditions. This means a two-thirds likelihood the Corn Belt will have normal precipitation and one-third risk of below-normal precipitation.
- February 2009