Wacky Weather

August 26, 2011 07:31 PM
Wacky Weather

Prepare for the possibility of more wild weather

Extreme weather is making its mark on the 2011 crop as farms and ranches in 913 counties across the country that were declared disaster areas recover from a rough season—a process that, unfortunately, they will likely go through again next year.

La Niña is to blame for flooding, soggy spring fields, widespread drought, ravishing wildfires and the hundreds of tornadoes we endured this season, according to Elwynn Taylor, an agricultural meteorologist at Iowa State University. He warns that scientists predict a 50% chance that this weather pattern will continue into next year.

"It takes three consecutive months of non–La Niña–like conditions to declare the event over," Taylor explains. "While May and June were not La Niña–like, July was, indicating the pattern will continue."

Summing up the stormy season, Ted Glaser, who suffered flood damage in Louisiana, says, "We got our crops in the ground, and it was a beautiful crop. You try to control your variables, but Mother Nature? You just can’t control that baby."

tornado graph
(Click the graphic above to view a larger image.)

At the start of the spring, intense rainfall caused record-late planting dates across the Corn Belt and forced farmers in many regions to claim prevented planting. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of acres on the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana were engulfed by swollen waters as the result of melting snowpack from the Northern states.

Devoured farmland also included 130,000 acres in the Birds Point levee spillway that stood in the way of the mighty river until the Army Corps of Engineers blasted a hole in the levee to relieve pressure upstream. Today, the Missouri River continues to rise, encroaching on towns and fields along its banks.

While the Midwest was sinking in water, the Southwest was headed in a downward spiral of drought that would result in the liquidation of entire cattle herds in Texas and aid the soon-to-come wildfires that ravished land in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

"The drought conditions associated with La Niña tend to go away in the summer. Down Texas’ direction they haven’t, and if La Niña stays, we expect the drought to stick around," Taylor says.

La Niña is also to blame for the 875 preliminary tornadoes that tore through the South, making April 2011 the most tornadic month this century, says the Storm Prediction Center. Tornadoes carried into May, and on May 22, Joplin, Mo., was struck by the single deadliest tornado since 1950.

Howard G
Firefighters from all across the nation traveled to the Southwest to battle fires that consumed the livelihoods of many.
PHOTO: Howard G. Buffett

Unfortunately, the excitement might not be over. Severe drought continues to plague the Southwest and 99% of Texas. Taylor warns that an early frost is not out of the question and that should La Niña continue, another extremely wet spring is in our future. He encourages producers to follow the long-range outlook to prepare for the extreme weather that is likely to come.

"We certainly have not seen the end of these extreme conditions," he warns. "In 1974, it carried over into the next year and it could happen again easily."

Those words are tough to hear for communities across the country that are trying to pick up the pieces. However, community is the key to recovery, according to Farm Journal family counselor Jonathan Finck.

"Farmers can’t control the weather or limit the damage to their operation, but they can limit the impact it has upon themselves," he says. "Those impacted need to make sure they don’t allow themselves to be isolated. Instead, engage in the community recovery efforts. A shared recovery and healing is more powerful than a private one. Helping others actually helps yourself."

Are You Ready for Another Wet Spring?

In anticipation of the wet spring that is likely next season, there are several things you can do now that will help make a soggy situation better.

Start with tillage. This fall, make sure to look at your tillage program. Often, horizontal tillage can create density layers that slow water infiltration in the spring, says Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer. She emphasizes that it’s important to look at your soils now to make sure your tillage program isn’t creating density layers in the soil, as often occurs with horizontal tillage. Turning your program toward vertical tillage now can help with a possible saturation problem in the spring.

Adjust your planter. There are a few things you can adjust on your corn planter that will help keep things from turning from bad to worse in a wet field. Running too much down pressure could result in the seed slot opening back up or could cause mohawk roots that grow down into the trench instead of out. You can also review your closing wheel system. A spike wheel might help close the seed slot better under wet conditions in comparison to a standard rubber closing wheel. Be cautious when setting your row cleaners, she adds. Don’t set them too aggressive or deep, which might result in moving the dryer soil out of the way, resulting in a wet seedbed.

Watch nitrogen. Finally, Bauer says, respect your nitrogen program. If you apply nitrogen in the fall or spring pre-emergence, evaluate nitrogen loss after heavy rains. Pulling soil nitrate tests from 0" to 12" and from 12" to 24" deep can give you an indication of nitrogen loss. If you have lost nitrogen, you may need to consider adding sidedress nitrogen, Bauer says.

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