Will Late-Summer Dryness Hurt Crops?

May 20, 2010 03:29 PM
All indications are that the El Niño is ending and the Pacific Ocean currents will transition to a La Niña pattern by the end of summer. But it probably won't be in time to bring typical La Niña droughts this growing season, and it should be a much smoother harvest than was seen in 2009.
Check the three-month forecasts released Thursday morning by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and you'll see a trend from cooler and wetter than normal for May-July through much of the Plains and Corn Belt to normal in August-October.
"I'm pleased to see the CPC showed no areas of likely dryness through the summer season in the major crop areas,” says Drew Lerner of World Weather. "Our forecast still suggests below-average precipitation in the eastern Corn Belt down into the Delta near the end of summer. This would correspond with CPC's August-October map, which shows equal chances for wet versus dry.”
El Niño is going to transition by summer, Lerner adds. "Because the definition of La Niña requires three months of below-average ocean temperatures, the government declaration of La Niña may not come until fall--after the weather effects of the transition already have occurred. In fact that's why I have a dry weather bias for late summer and harvest.”
What Could Go Wrong
If this holds true, the crop should remain in good shape. Larry Acker of 3F Forecasts in Polo, Ill., predicts a freeze (under 28 degrees F for at least two hours) in September. "If crops are at all behind, their season will come to a halt in short order,” he says. "And the harvest season will be terrible—worse than last year.”
However, this will not be a repeat of the drought seen in 1988, another La Niña year, Lerner adds. "There are many factors that are different. For one thing, prospects are for cooler than average weather in June-August. There is a strong bias for cooler summer temperatures in the year following a sunspot minimum. This minimum lasted two years and contributed to last summer's cooler temperatures. This summer will be similar, though not identical.”
In addition, Lerner says: "In 1988. we were not planting corn as early as we are in the 2000s. This year's particularly early planting means that much of the corn crop will be pollinating in the last half of June and first half of July, so even if the dryness I expect develops, the crop will be beyond that important time period.”
World Weather
"I'm more concerned with the Indian monsoon season (June 1-Sept. 15). It's currently 117 degrees F in New Delhi. It's always hot there at this time of year, but that is the worst heat in at least 20 years. And I think the monsoons are going to be a bust,” Acker says.
Based on major cycles, Acker predicts a reversal in commodity price trends about May 27. "Commodities will head north,” he says.

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