Martell: Drought Resolving on Canadian Prairies

May 14, 2012 03:33 AM

The following content was provided by meteorologist Gail Martell of

Drought Resolving on Canadian Prairies as La Nina Fades

Generous rainfall has developed in Canada’s prairie farm belt in the recent month. More than twice the normal rainfall developed in central Alberta and Saskatchewan while Manitoba received 60-85% of normal rainfall. Conditions were so wet that a substantial moisture surplus has built up 40 to 80 millimeters in western Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta.

The sudden reversal in the weather from very dry to wet suggests the demise of La Nina may have been responsible. An active storm track has developed in western Canada from a suddenly strong jet stream delivering waves of showers. By contrast, when La Nina is in effect, drought occurs from persistent high pressure.

Prairie Wetness

Saskatchewan is Canada’s top farm province growing more than 25% of Canadian grain production. Alberta is the second most important producer of grains and the leading grower of canola.

China Soybean Production Inadequate for Needs

The USDA anticipates a smaller oilseed harvest in China this season and 3% lower than 2011. Corn has displaced soybeans as the crop of choice in Northeast China, as the nation strives for self-sufficiency in feed grains.

Soybean production this season is pegged at only 13.1 million metric tons (MMT), using USDA data, and 14% below the 2008-2010 average production. At the same time, China corn production continues to expand as still another record corn harvest is projected this season and 193 MMT. If achieved, corn production would be 27% higher than five years ago. In Northeast China, corn's gain is soybean’s loss.

The USDA projects China will import 61 MMT of soybeans in 2012-13, shattering last year's record 56 MMT.

Ukraine Massive Spring Planting Campaign, Oilseeds Come Up Short

Winter rapeseed in Ukraine was severely damaged by drought last fall and winterkill in February. Fully half of rapeseed plantings were lost to harsh weather. Severe losses would be partially offset by higher planting of soybeans and sunflower. Yet, USDA still anticipates a net reduction in oilseed output in 2012, as summer crop production of oilseeds would fail to make up for massive winter rapeseed losses. Winter grains produce a higher yield. The mid-April vegetation image revealed widespread losses from winter wheat and rapeseed.

Extreme Heat Ukraine Russia

Ukraine producers have their hands full striving to re-plant 1.7 million hectares of damaged winter wheat and rapeseed, on top of the regular spring crop planting. The weather has been magnificent for planting with summer-like warmth and dryness. Highs in the 80sF were common last week. However, drought is worrisome from persistently warm and dry spring weather in the central and eastern Ukraine.

What if El Nino Develops?

La Nina is finished, the Climate Prediction Center has proclaimed but what comes next? The Climate Prediction Center anticipates ENSO-neutral conditions through the summer. Presumably this means there would be a mixture of wetness and dryness from alternating weak El Nino and La Nina signals. El Nino if it developed would promote a high yield in Midwest corn. However, there are different stripes with El Nino.

The El Nino in 2004 led to a record high corn yield. Growers were able to seed early in spring, due to very warm soil temperatures in April. The summer became very cool, a classic pattern with El Nino. A stress-free pollination period ensued in July with ample rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures. Corn still received sufficient heat units to make it safely to maturity. In the end, a record high yield was obtained more than 10% above the norm.

Another El Nino in 2009 was exceptionally cold and wet. Midwest producers had difficulty getting corn planted on time in spring, due to very cold wet field conditions. Delayed spring planting was followed by the coolest July on record, further slowing down crop development. Freezing temperatures developed in early October, before corn was mature, causing wet grain that refused to dry down. Though corn yields still finished very strong, grain was very wet, requiring artificial drying for safe storage. The harvest got strung out in the winter, some northern growers even harvesting grain in the snow. All in all, it was a nightmarish growing season.




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