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ISU: Expect wet, cool crop start

By Staff | Apr 16, 2016

El Nino is here, but not expected to stay much longer. If the predominate weather pattern shifts back toward a La Nina system, farmers will have serious management decisions to make.

These thoughts were the message of Dr. Christopher Anderson, a climate risk analyst and assistant director of Iowa State University Climate Science Initiative.

Anderson was a guest speaker for an April 6 Farm Bureau-sponsored webinar on climate trends and crop yields.

He covered weather trends affecting the 2016 growing season as well as the next 30 years.

“My goal as a research scientist at Iowa State University is to make sure farmers are successful as weather changes,” Anderson said.

And that means whether it’s changing over the next few months or over the next 30 years, he added.

Anderson said he has developed the knowledge, tools and framework for farm decisions about practices and investment options created by weather trends.

El Nino

He explained that an El Nino event is currently affecting U.S. weather.

El Nino is the warm phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle. ENSO is how scientists describe the fluctuations in temperature between the atmosphere and the ocean in the east-central Equatorial Pacific.

Basically, El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific. The cooling trend is referred to La Nina.

Although El Nino weather impacts differ in different hemispheres, it creates conditions for large, frequent thunderstorms across the U.S. Midwest.

These thunderstorms are constant and push around the jet stream, which make for certain precipitation conditions.

Currently the forecast shows that Brazil is expected to be hot and dry, allowing for timely planting of its second crop, while Argentina’s weather should remain average.

Forecasters, Anderson said, expect El Nino will be present through May, shifting through a neutral pattern through summer leading to a La Nina weather pattern later this year.

“With La Nina in the Midwest we have higher chances for drought,” said Anderson. “And we are already beginning to hear that some markets could be going up due to a possible summer drought.”

These forecasts, Anderson said, will be clearer in May and later.

Historically, with La Nina there is a 60 percent chance of a drought, he added.

Anderson also said yields are often up following an intense El Nino for both corn and soybeans. However, he said soybean yields do not seem to be as sensitive as corn yields.

Thanks to the El Nino, farmers might be able to plant early, but those seedlings may not grow.

“Following an intense El Nino is rarely any excessive rainfall, so timely planting appears reasonable,” said Anderson. “The forecast is showing less rain expected allowing three to four weeks of planting in April and May.”

However, it’s the cool temperatures growers should be aware of.

“It will be 3 to 4 degrees cooler,” he said. “It’ll be dry, but cool temperatures could prohibit growing.”

South America

As far as marketing plans, Anderson said South America production looks slightly above 2015. Brazil, he said, has some weather affecting yields making them below the U.S. Department of Agriculture project yield.

However, Argentina’s yields are coming in above those projected yield numbers.

He said marketing farmers can expect Brazil’s second crop to get planted in a timely manner.

“Bottom line, don’t expect a market shock coming out of Brazil’s soybean production and don’t expect a delayed planting of corn to make the market go higher,” said Anderson.

He added one market effect that could affect prices is if Brazilian growers have issues getting their crops to export.

“There’s quite a bit of economic and political unrest right now,” Anderson said, “and if navigating roads is actually a very difficult thing at the moment, it might not be the weather that gives the soybean market a jolt.”

“It might actually be getting Brazil out to export that might create a window of opportunity for U.S. exports to come in, in a panic of others wanting to buy soybeans.”

Seed maturity

Anderson has been recommending growers look at the length of the growing season and less of the dryness of the growing season with their seed choices.

He suggested that for 2016, farmers think how long the growing season will be – forecasted a little shorter on the front end – considering seed choices.

Spring rainfall in Iowa has been changing. Because of that, Anderson recommends growers be aware of different management issues that could be affecting them, such as nitrate deficiency issues due to increased spring rainfall amounts.

Anderson said weather and climate trends through 2015 favor of increased humidity and spring rainfall.

This could result in a 10- to 15-percent reduction in suitable field work days. He advises looking ahead at added costs in machinery and labor.

With the trend, Anderson said growers could also expect a 4- to 5-percent reduction in corn yields by 2045 and a 1- to 2-percent soybean yield reduction.

However, to help with the potential drop in corn yields, the additional spring rainfall expected could bring a higher corn density.

Intensive water management, Anderson said, could produce a yield increase larger than the projected climate yield decrease.

Intensive water management will mean more than the drainage systems growers currently have in place and learning how to time a field’s water usage.

“An intensive water management would be either to create the drainage system to drain faster in the spring so you are intensifying it in that case or combine it in a drainage management system design so you are holding water over until the summer,” said Anderson.

With potential increased spring rainfall, he added growers should give consideration for conservation attempts on highly erodible acres as they may become unproductive.

2015 soybeans

An interesting factor of 2015, Anderson said, is high soybean yields. He said he would like to see ISU go back and do a post-mortem study on that factor and see just what could have brought those yields on as many growers are shocked with their yields from last year as well.

Anderson showed there has been an upward trend of soybean yields over the years, with 1997 being the previously high-yielding year.

“What happened in 1997, which was our best year, is there was a nice, cool summer,” said Anderson.

Weather is one of possibly a few factors why 2015 is the best recorded yielding year so far.

“I know there was some the favorable late summertime rainfall, but aside from that I am really interested to know…why the soybean yield was so great in 2015,” he said.

Anderson asked those listening to send him their thoughts or questions on the issue if they were interested.

Corn yields were somewhat high, but nothing comparable to soybeans.

“The story of 2015 was really about soybeans,” Anderson said. “It was a really good year for soybeans and I think we need to spend some time thinking about it before we forget.”

He added that one goal should be to figure out if any lessons can be learned from last year.

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