Rain, Risk and Reward

September 3, 2015 12:00 PM
Rain, Risk and Reward

Use multiple forecasts on different timeframes for strategic planning

A trio of weather tools gave Texas producer Gordie Twerberg the early warning he needed to plant some of his forage crop late this year, taking advantage of wet conditions and resulting soil moisture. 

“I still made tonnage,” explains Twerberg, who serves as general manager of Enger Farms LLC in Joshua, Texas. “I still had a crop.” He farms 4,000 leased acres of organic forages in rotation with corn. 

Twerberg subscribes to Weather Trends 360 for an 11-month forecast, to AccuWeather for conditions within the next 45 days and to The Weather Channel for seven- to 10-day forecasts. 

Experts say an approach such as Twerberg’s is advantageous because it helps producers manage risk. 

“There’s a lot of information available, whether it’s [from the] government or the university community and even into the private sector,” says Leon Osborne, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of North Dakota. “Our ability to look further into the future is getting better.”

Summer Outlook. Farmers saw unprecedented rainfall in much of the Corn Belt this spring. Data show May was the wettest in U.S. history for the lower 48 states. 

The month of June saw many rivers rise to levels seen during the devastating 1993 floods, notes Allen Motew, director, QT Weather.

“We’re watching the long-range models,” Motew says. “They have provided us with excellent information, and they still are trending wet for the remainder of the summer and even into fall.”

The challenge will be getting enough growing degree days (GDDs) to finish out the corn and soybean crops. Saturated soil will keep daytime temperatures in check, staving off what would have been a record hot summer, Osborne says.

Farther out, producers seeking to mitigate risk in the long-term should extend their gaze worldwide to 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. He says those forecasts call for a moderate El Niño that will develop rapidly and intensify this winter, producing dry conditions in the Corn Belt. 

Harvest And Beyond. If rapid drying begins during the hot period from late July to early August, yields could be threatened. Alternately, a longer ramp-up of El Niño could result in the driest harvest in four years, helping farmers, Kirk says.

Heading into 2016, 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 doesn’t anticipate a repeat of 2012 but notes the information can help producers select hybrids and time planting.

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, Motew says. 

Experts Share Two Frost Scenarios


As corn and soybean producers look toward harvest this year, weather specialists share how field conditions could prove challenging or helpful. 

Allen Motew, QT Weather director
Strong weather systems coming out of the Canadian prairie and into the northern U.S. suggest a cold snap is possible this year in the Corn Belt, explains Allen Motew, director, QT Weather.

“If that were to continue into September, we could have an early frost or freeze,” he says.

From August through October, colder-than-normal temperatures are expected in states such as Iowa and Nebraska. The cold could extend east in September.

Bill Kirk, Weather Trends CEO
Some models suggest a late freeze won’t occur until late October for many corn and soybean producers, says Weather Trends CEO Bill Kirk. He expects conditions to become warmer and wetter in November, which could hamper harvest in crop-growing regions including the Pacific Northwest.

He advises farmers to keep an eye on weather in South America, Australia and beyond to understand how climatic conditions will impact global crop size and markets.


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