Producers seeking to mitigate risk in the long-term should extend their gaze worldwide, recalling the role of ocean temperatures and global weather patterns, experts say. That will help them plan for harvest and the 2016 crop.
Consider recent European weather models, viewed by many as the “Holy Grail” of short-range predictions, says Bill Kirk, CEO and co-founder of Weather Trends, the long-term forecasting service to which Texas producer Twerberg subscribes. He says those forecasts call for a moderate El Niño that will develop at warp speed and intensify this winter, something not seen in 200 years.
That will produce dry conditions throughout much of the Corn Belt, Kirk says. If rapid drying begins during the hot period from late July to early August, crop yields could be threatened. Alternately, a longer ramp-up of El Niño could result in a moderate growing season followed by the driest harvest in four years, helping get crops out of the ground more quickly, he says.
Heading into 2016, though, he expects those dry conditions to persist.
“As El Niño decays, a lot of things lining up would suggest a pretty severe drought over much of the Central and Northeast [Corn Belt] and Great Lakes region,” Kirk cautions. He notes his firm predicted the 2012 drought a year in advance, and while he doesn’t anticipate a repeat, knowledge of dry conditions can help producers decide which hybrids to purchase and when to plant.
“We’ve already been looking very closely at 2016 as potentially being a significantly dry year really everywhere from the Central Plains into the Midwest,” agrees Leon Osborne, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of North Dakota. Conversely, El Niño is expected to bring above-normal rainfall to the West Coast this winter, potentially relieving some of the extreme drought in California.
At the same time, producers should be careful to draw too many conclusions too quickly.
“Following El Niño usually on a 1 ½- to 3-year period, you would go back toward neutral and La Nina,” says Allen Motew, director, QT Weather. “Concerns of La Nina should be in everyone’s mind because, overall, you go back to that pattern and it could be hotter and drier.” Yet it’s also true El Niño conditions could continue into spring and summer 2016, bringing with them wet conditions similar to those seen this spring.
“That’s where you manage risk, look out longer on a regular basis,” Motew says.