However, drought still remains a big concern for some areas.
This year’s winter should be favorable for U.S. and South American crops, but pockets of drought remain a concern in the United States.
"A lot of the model guidance is leaning in the direction of an El Niño maybe late in 2014," says Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist. "But that certainly won’t influence conditions this winter, and it’s too early to speculate how it could affect crops later this summer."
With El Niño only a distant concern, the winter outlook is mostly favorable for U.S. crops.
Off to Cold Start
"We got a good kickstart to winter with cold and stormy conditions," says Rippey.
The National Weather Service is predicting that the upper Midwest and the northern Plains will likely have a colder-than-normal winter.
Currently there is an atypical weather system over the northern Pacific that has driven the jet stream south, creating cold weather across most of the country, says Rippey. At some point that will give way and temperatures in the southern United States will begin to warm, according to the National Weather Service.
Drought Not Over
"The drought has been halved since its peak in 2012," says Rippey. "Currently about 30% of the country remains in drought, though." Three areas of concern are California and the Southwest, West Texas, and the lower Southeast.
California and the Southwest could enter their third year of drought if conditions do not improve. The past two years of drought have taken a toll on reservoirs.
"If California and the Southwest go through another dry winter, they could have serious water concerns," he notes.
West Texas is already in its third year of drought and the area’s winter wheat crop is suffering. While West Texas is ground zero, this area of drought extends into Oklahoma, western Kansas and Nebraska, and eastern Colorado.
The lower Southeast, which consists of the south Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coast, had a wet 2013, but over the last 60 to 90 days the region has turned dry.
"The lower Southeast could be short on soil moisture heading into spring," Rippey notes.
Elsewhere topsoil moisture will be in good shape heading into spring planting season, but dryness through summer could be a problem, particularly in parts of Iowa where subsoils remain dry.
Conditions in South America Good, Too
Weather in the crop-growing regions of Argentina and Brazil is also mostly favorable.
"The moisture situation is very favorable this year in Brazil," says Mark Brusberg, deputy chief meteorologist with USDA. "The bulk of the soybean belt has been getting substantial rain for the past few weeks."
With planting of first-season corn and soybeans basically complete, rains in Brazil are falling at an ideal time.
In Argentina, 66% of the soybeans and 52% of the corn were planted as of Dec. 5. The concern in Argentina, says Brusberg, is that warm temperatures could maintain a high evaporation rate, but overall conditions in Argentina are mostly favorable.