Mother Nature's grip isn't loosening.
Frigid temperatures gripped much of the U.S. this winter with acres of land under several feet of snow. It’s no surprise that the 2013-20144 winter was one for the record books.
"For six Midwestern states, it was the coldest winter since 1978-1979," says Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist.
Rippey says add to that record snowfalls in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Flint, Mich. Meanwhile, in states like Minnesota, what’s happening underground is a reminder of just how brutal this past winter has been.
"The cold weather came in in the fall before the snow fell, so in the northern Corn Belt, we have some phenomenal frost depths that range from five to seven feet," he says.
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While the snow is finally melting across much of the Midwest, the frost isn’t budging.
"Across the north, the eastern Dakotas, Minnesota through Michigan, that’s where we have a lot of thawing," says Rippey. "We have to get that snow off the ground before we even think about spring field work and planting."
He says another area to keep a close eye on is the eastern Corn Belt and states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
"Those areas have seen a lot of snow, as well, but of course we don't have the deep frost to deal with there, it's not nearly as deep," explains Rippey. "So, depending on how spring weather patterns turn out, it could be some delayed plating in the lower Midwest, as well."
Last year at this time, northeast Indiana farmer Joe Caffee was finishing up field work and just days away from breaking ground to plant. This year, that’s not the case.
"In northeast Indiana the soil is extremely cold and wet," says Caffee. "We had snow again this week. Right now, all the seed is safe in the barn and still in the bags."
He says the seed will stay there for a while. Caffee thinks even if it warmed up today, it would still be three weeks to a month before they could get into the field.
Rippey says the chance of warmer weather arriving anytime soon across much of the Midwest is slim to none.
"It looks like winter is going to be very slow to let go across the North," he says. "All the outlooks are indicating below normal temperatures being the most likely outcome for April. At the same time, the spring storm track generally shifts northward. So, we should see a season increase in moisture across much of the Midwest, as well."
Rippey says that increased moisture, combined with the cold temperatures, could mean more snow. So, he’s already expecting planting delays in some areas.
"The one area that may do a little bit better is the southwest quadrants: Nebraska, perhaps parts of Iowa and into Missouri," he says.
Rippey thinks that’s because the moisture deficit is still left over from the tough summer of 2012.
"This map is a way to show we still have some hidden subsoil moisture deficits in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska," he says. "So, even though it might seem a little wet on the surface, if you’re digging post holes, you might still find some powder soil down below the surface."
A farmer in Chapin, Ill., has been installing tile. He also says the moisture on top is good, but four feet down it’s very dry, reminding him of the spring of 2012. That hidden deficit below is what some analysts say could help boost corn prices this year.
"Corn is at one of these levels where it's very easy to say ‘what if this dry weather out West permeates east,'" says Brian Doherty of Stewart-Peterson. "We’re hearing of guys digging graves saying ‘geeze, it’s dry underneath once we get through the frost.' So, be prepared for anything."
No matter the outcome of planting 2014, it’s off to another wild start.
You can follow planting across Interstate 80 from Nebraska to Ohio this spring each week on AgDay.