Spring weather outlook: Delays threaten northern row-crop acreage | TSLN.com

Spring weather outlook: Delays threaten northern row-crop acreage

Bryce Anderson

OMAHA (DTN) – Wet conditions and potential flooding across the northern Corn Belt will pose a big challenge for planting.

Farmers in this portion of the Corn Belt told USDA they would seed an extra 1.5 million acres to corn this planting season, according to the March 31 Planting Intentions report. Minnesota’s acreage is up 3 percent from last year (200,000 acres), with the Dakota’s planned contribution even greater – a 22 percent increase (450,000 acres) in North Dakota and a robust 19 percent jump (850,000 acres) in South Dakota.

Snowmelt and its potential contribution to flooding – and acreage loss – is significant. For example, March snowfall in Fargo, ND, this year totaled 16.6 inches. A year ago, only a trace of snow fell in Fargo. Saturated soils compound the wet conditions; the entire row-crop areas of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota carry the wettest soil moisture classification in the Palmer Drought Index: +4.0 or “Extremely Moist.”

“The good news is the anxiety over really bad flooding is less than it was a few weeks ago,” said Lowell Berntson, who farms near Kulm, ND, in the southern half of that state. “We’ve stayed cool, cold really, and so snow has melted slowly, which is good in terms of flooding.” But the cool weather isn’t good for drying up soils for planting, he said.

Those conditions are what has Telvent DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino identifying the 2011 growing season as notably different from 2010.

“Last year, there was a lot of concern going into spring because of heavy snowpack,” Palmerino said. “But, things changed with a massive warm and dry turnaround and the snow melted without major flooding. Now, this year, there is the issue with snowpack in the northern belt, and in that respect it’s similar to the slow spring seasons that we saw two and three years ago.”

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An additional feature to deal with in the northern Corn Belt is the stubborn presence of La Nina in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina is present when the equator-region waters of the Pacific are running cooler than normal and a barometric comparison between Tahiti and Darwin, Australia, (Southern Oscillation Index or SOI), shows a consistently positive reading of +8 or higher. Late-March sea-surface temperature patterns showed some warming of the ocean off the South American coast but a vast region of continued cool conditions in the central Pacific. In addition, the SOI carried a robust value of +16.8 for the previous 30 days, with a daily reading on March 30 of +28.6.

“La Nina tends to keep the storm track focused over the northern tier of states, and this would imply the likelihood of continued storms and spring fieldwork delays,” said Telvent DTN Chief Science Officer Jeff Johnson.

Add up heavy March snow, saturated soils and the presence of La Nina, and results are a slow start to spring. The North Dakota agricultural statistics field office report for March 27 featured an estimated average beginning date of April 26 for field work in the state – the second-slowest in the past 10 years and eight days later than a year ago.

Berntson said he’s less than optimistic that the increased corn acreage expected from his region will come to fruition. “There’s more snow in the north part of the state, and that’s where a lot of this extra acreage is supposed to be. That’s where we hear corn seed sales are running higher. But that area has even less production potential and is more prone to frost late in the season.” Even in his area, 40 miles south of Interstate 94, “We have about a 50 percent chance of frost before we finish corn harvest.”

The potentially slow planting season across the Corn Belt has the corn market on edge and approaching the season in a bullish mode, according to DTN Market Analyst John Sanow.

“The market is telling us that there is more pressure on achieving near-ideal planting and growing conditions … which right now is something the spring weather forecast fails to deliver,” Sanow said.

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