A torturous spring tour

A torturous spring tour

By: Jeff Caldwell 04/20/2011 @ 3:00pm

The gut-wrenching grind of a spring season continues from the southern Plains to the northern Corn Belt.

Extremes from drought-fueled fires and starved crops in the southern Plains to flooding, snowfall and unseasonably cold temperatures in the northern Plains and Corn Belt continue to exert as much stress to the 2011 crops as some farmers have ever seen at this point in the year.

It's almost like conditions couldn't vary any more than they have thus far this spring. "April is a month when you can really see some weather extremes, but what we saw yesterday was simply incredible. We set record low maximum temperatures yesterday in southeastern Iowa as places there did not see readings get out of the 30s and low 40s. However, as close by as St. Louis we were scoring record HIGHS yesterday as the high temperature there got to an incredible 88 degrees," Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., meteorologist Craig Solberg said Wednesday morning. Those extremes were highlighted by measurable snowfall in the northern Corn Belt and tornadoes and large hail in parts of Missouri, Illinois and Ohio.

"With regards to the weather coming up for the Midwest, this still looks to be about as bad as it can get for the last third of April with regards to getting field work done," Solberg adds.

Soaking Corn Belt

Start in the heart of corn and soybean country. The dominating weather pattern over the northern Corn Belt is showing up as snow in parts of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, including Agriculture.com Marketing Talk member harolddog's area of northwestern Iowa. For him, that means planting progress has barely entered his mind.

"We woke up with 3 inches of snow on the ground yesterday morning and didn't make it out of the 30s," he said Wednesday morning. "Ground temperature last week was 37 degrees. They are talking rain for about a week, so I'm guessing that we won't be planting any time soon. By the way, a few guys started planting 10 days ago...I guess you have to start early if you want to do it all over."

Further south and east, the moisture's coming as rainfall, though the amounts are no lighter, says Marketing Talk member SouthWestOhio. "My fields all look like lakes. And if this weather ever breaks, we won't be able to jump in the planter and go as there's lots of P&K to be spread and spraying to be done," he says.

The moisture will eventually end and crops will get planted. But, what will the current conditions ultimately mean to yields?

"This year kind of reminds me of 1988 -- Late April snow, followed by planting in cold May with corn taking nearly 3 weeks to emerge," says Marketing Talk member BA Deere. "Then a dry summer: 100-bushel/acre county yields if you lied a little."

Dakota flooding

Now, move back west to the Dakotas. As major winter snowfall melts, it's erased the normal boundaries of the Red River Basin and the surrounding areas. And as the rain and snow continues to fall, some say the flooding could be around for a while.

"As record inflows still approach Lake Ashtabula, there is now additional snowmelt runoff which will impact that basin through the coming week,  with perhaps even more precipitation to come this week. The Red River appear to have crested at Oslo...but a very slow decline is expected there," says National Weather Service meteorologist in Fargo, North Dakota, Greg Gust. "Otherwise the crest on the Red continues to march northward. Cooler temperatures have not slowed inflows into Devils Lake."

Obviously, with conditions like these, farmers in the eastern Dakotas -- like Marketing Talk member teaspoon73 -- will be hard-pressed to get much of any fieldwork done in the foreseeable future.

"Not a wheel turned here in northeastern South Dakota. In fact, it's snowed 3 of the last 5 days," he said Monday. "Roads are a big concern, as major highways are even shut down. Temps in the 30s don't dry anything out either."

Bone-dry wheat

From the Dakotas, now head south. That's hard red winter wheat country. What a difference a few hundred miles can make. There, the excess that's plaguing the Midwest is in as short of supply as it's been in decades. And, the wheat crop in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas is paying the price, big-time.

"The crop adjuster was here yesterday, my best wheat was 13.4 bushels/acre and the worst was 0.5 bushels/acre (they can't assign a 0 if they see some plants)," says Marketing Talk member KsGC. "I know it's just out my back door, but the adjuster said that they were very busy in the western 1/3 of Kansas."

Those kind of conditions are, in fact, fairly common in the wheat belt. Another of the farmers affected by the drought is Tanner Ehmke. In his area of Lane County in western Kansas, his crop adjuster just inspected one of his fields Tuesday to find a possible yield of 2.2 bushels/acre.

"That field's going to be entirely abandoned and planted to milo," Ehmke said Wednesday. "Our crop adjuster says most fields he's observed with this severity of damage are in the western half of the state."

'Like hell's gate'

Now, head further south. The drought that's slamming the wheat crop to the north is doing far worse things to the landscape in far southern parts of Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and west Texas. Fires have scorched thousands of acres. Though fanned by the recent dry spell that's seen no measurable rainfall since September in some parts of west Texas, the issue goes back further than that.

"It starts last year when a wetter-than-normal summer promoted abundant vegetation growth in the area. On the Fourth of July, more than 10 inches of rain fell in a short period of time. We had knee-high grass in some parts of the ranch, and everything looked much greener than the average summer in West Texas," says Lindsay West Kennedy, National Sorghum Producers (NSP) Director of External Affairs, based in Lubbock, Texas.