Will Mother Nature set the stage for profits this year?
The 2014/15 winter was a bit bipolar. Too cold? Too hot? Too wet? Too dry? Different parts of the U.S. experienced each of these conditions.
For the first two months of meteorological winter (December 2014 and January 2015), the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 34.9°F, which is 3.5°F above the 20th century average. That makes it the sixth warmest December to January period on record.
According to preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, during January, 3,499 warm daily temperature records were broken or tied (1,906 warm maximum and 1,593 warm minimum), compared to 775 cool daily temperature records broken or tied (441 cool maximum and 334 cool minimum).
February, on the other hand, saw a reversal to record-breaking cold and snow across the eastern half of the U.S. Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh survived the coldest or second-coldest February on record.
Now that spring is here, farmers and forecasters alike are looking forward to the coming thaw. But will a spring warmup arrive in a timely and cooperative manner?
“U.S. Farm Report” meteorologist Mike Hoffman expects April temperatures to be normal in the East, colder than normal in the Corn Belt, slightly below normal in the Plains and above normal in the Northwest.
It’s not until May that Hoffman predicts most of the U.S. to finally return in a normal weather pattern.
“Temperatures should be above normal in the Northern Plains, West, Southeast and mid-Atlantic,” he says. “I think it will be near normal for most of the Corn Belt.”
When it comes to precipitation this spring, most of the Corn Belt and portions of the West, including California, should be near normal, Hoffman says. He is concerned, however, about North and South Dakota’s lack of rain and snowfall.
“I think precipitation will be above normal in the Southeast, as well as most of the central portions of the Rockies,” he adds.
Another interesting winter weather stat to track is the amount of Great Lakes ice coverage, according to
Allendale chief meteorologist Ryan Martin. Ice coverage topped out at slightly more than 92% in 2014. This year’s ice cover was behind but still topped 80% as of early March.
“Why is that important?” Martin asks. “If you recall, it took forever to get rid of the ice on the Great Lakes last year. It does create somewhat of a microclimate in and around the lakes.”
That’s not to say the entire Corn Belt will be abnormally cold due to this phenomenon, Martin adds, but it’s not going to help speed along a spring warmup, either. It could create a “cool sink” that extends a 100 miles or more outward from the Great Lakes.
From an agronomic standpoint, how the winter unfolds sets the stage for pest pressures in the spring and summer months. A warmer early winter, coupled with high winds later on, could amplify weed pressures in some geographies this spring, notes Abe Smith, market development specialist at Dow AgroSciences.
“In the High Plains, you can drive by miles and miles of fences already bound up with windblown kochia,” he says.
“In many areas, there are really good conditions for weeds to germinate early. That means you should be scouting early this year,” Smith says.
Early season weed identification is critical, Smith says. That’s because the sooner a farmer identifies what weed mix is in his or her fields, the more control options will still be on the table. Don’t underestimate the impact wind, wildlife and even migratory birds can have on even previously weed-free fields.
“Not all problems you encounter are due to your management,” he says. “It reinforces the need to scout and understand how outside influences [such as weather] can affect weed populations.”
Weather also plays a significant role in disease pressures, adds Bond McInness, fungicide manager with DuPont Crop Protection.
“If you had a lot of disease pressure last year, there will be a high pathogen population in the soil this year, so early outbreaks are possible,” he says.
It all adds up to two key pieces of critical advice: Scout early this year, and have your planters ready to roll as soon as Mother Nature allows.
A Tale of Four Droughts That Vary in Intensity
Anyone who regularly checks the U.S. Drought Monitor might have spotted several similarities between 2014’s early March Drought Monitor and this year’s, says Jed Lafferty, managing director of life sciences at Planalytics. “While it’s still a little early to determine whether these dry areas intensify or improve, a lot of weather watchers are looking at what happened last year to determine a trend.”
In particular, the Drought Monitor shows four distinct regions currently experiencing various levels of drought. Here is what Planalytics has to say about each region:
- In the Pacific Northwest, California and the Southwest, expect intensifying drought for the growing season, with a moderate to strong El Niño possibly developing by 2016.
- In the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa, don’t expect a repeat of spring 2014. Large portions of this region received 125% to 300% normal rainfall, leading to late planting. This year, intensifying dryness is more likely.
- In Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, the 2014 and 2015 Drought Monitor images are fairly similar, with very dry conditions. Expect the trend to continue.
- In the Mississippi Delta and Tennessee-Ohio Valleys, a rather active southern storm track has been bringing adequate moisture to much of the Deep South and Southeast this year. April 2014 was very wet across the Deep South and could be a factor again this year.