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Taylor: For now, weak El Nino rules

By Staff | Dec 10, 2014

-Farm News photo by Larry Kershner DR. ELWYNN TALYOR, Iowa State University climatologist, speaks to an estimated 90 people on Dec. 3 during the first day of the Farm News Ag Show at Iowa Central Community College’s east campus. Taylor confirmed the Midwest is officially in an El Nino weather pattern, which is typically friendly to farming, but said it was a weak system and there is no way to predict how long it will last.

It’s official. El Nino is here, which can be a good thing for 2015’s crop prospects, but a challenge for farmers in marketing another large harvest.

According to Dr. Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University’s climatologist, the prevailing El Nino weather pattern was complete three weeks ago.

El Nino, which tends to bring cooler and wetter weather, is generally considered farm-friendly, Taylor said.

However, Taylor told an audience of 90 farmers at the 13th Farm News Ag Show Wednesday, this is a weak El Nino.

“We don’t know if it will continue for long,” Taylor said. “But if it weakens and we go back to a neutral pattern as we were this year, it still bodes well for agriculture.”

A neutral pattern is between El Nino and La Nina, which tends to bring hotter and drier weather and lower crop yields to farming.

After four consecutive years of below-trend yields, mostly under La Nina conditions, Taylor said, the 2014 harvest hit above trend and he expects another strong yield in 2015.

Taylor estimated a 70 percent chance of 2015’s corn crop hitting above trend. If that happens, he said farmers will be faced with another year of marketing a large corn crop.

A volatile 20 years

Taylor said the Corn Belt is in the third year of a 25-year cycle of volatile winters, which will make managing crop risks a challenge during the next two decades.

He said in the past 300 years, weather has followed a pattern of 25 years of volatile weather, followed by 18 years of mild weather. The year 2010 was the last year of the mild cycle, he said.

“So we are heading back into the kind of winters we had in the 1950s,” Taylor said. “But you don’t have to be scared of this.

“You can compete in this market.”

Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture started estimating yields in 1981, it has been right four times, Taylor said. “And that’s a good thing for you.”

He said USDA’s yields are established on the crop condition on July 1 and assumes average weather patterns through the rest of the growing season.

“Since 1981, we’ve only had average weather four times,” Taylor said.

He told farmers that if they monitor the USDA’s estimates, and then watch the accumulated growing degree units, precipitation and heat stress on their own crop and compare those to their historic yields, they can know early in the season if their yields will meet or exceed USDA’s estimates.

Then by comparing their individual yields with the average of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana (found on the Iowa Environmental Mesonet website), they can know if USDA’s estimates are too high or too low.

The Mesonet website is at mesonet.agron.iastate.edu/current.

“You can manage your risk by (forward) contracting your corn before harvest begins,” he said.

Taylor estimated that 2015’s national average corn yield will be 162 bushels per acre and December 2015 futures will be around $4.30 per bushel.

Concerning the 2014-2015 winter, Taylor said it’s unclear if there will be as much snow as last winter, but it will be a cold one.

Since Nov. 1, there have been two polar outbreaks bringing frigid weather to the Corn Belt.

The 2013-2014 winter had 11 outbreaks from January through late April.

Nine outbreaks is considered a harsh winter.

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