Intense rainfall that swept across much of the southern and eastern Corn Belt last week significantly reduces the odds that corn growers will be able to plant early in 2008, says Mike Palecki, regional climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.
“Areas from Oklahoma to southern Missouri and southern Illinois and on into Indiana and Ohio now have really saturated soil conditions,” says Palecki. “This region will need a lot of drying out before field preparations will be possible.”
The lowlands near rivers affected by flooding will be significantly delayed, points out Palecki. “Other well-drained areas will still have delays of several weeks compared to normal, which will substantially reduce the chances for early planting,” he says. “Over the weekend, even more fields near rivers have become inundated as the flood waters have moved downstream.”
Although last week’s rainfall missed more northern areas of the Corn Belt, that region also has saturated soils that will need a dry period to allow fieldwork to begin, says Palecki. “Parts of Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and on into Michigan have substantial snow packs that are still melting, and those areas are likely to have wet soils into mid-April,” he says. “Many of these areas already had saturated soil conditions in the fall. Combined with above-normal snowfall during winter, this means they will start out spring very wet.”
In northern areas, farmers are waiting for warmth, which has been slow in coming, says Palecki. “From Iowa northward, we’ll be fortunate to have normal temperatures during the next month,” he says. “If spring warmth doesn’t get there soon, even on well-drained soils there will be planting delays. Also, the latest Climate Prediction Center forecast for April indicates increased chances of above-normal precipitation in the eastern Dakotas and much of Minnesota.”
Yet, the rains that fell over the southern and eastern Corn Belt last week will be the region’s most serious precipitation for some time, predicts Palecki. “The eastern Corn Belt might have more rain events coming through again soon, but they will be of much less intensity than this major rain event that just passed through,” he says. “In comparison, the western Corn Belt will probably have more of a chance to dry in the next couple weeks.”
With La Niña weather patterns likely to continue into spring, the odds increase that drier conditions will eventually begin to affect the Corn Belt, he adds.
“However, the cooler-than-normal temperatures and all the wet weather that we’ve had recently adds uncertainty on how things will turn out for corn growers,” Palecki says. “The probabilities for early planting are lower than normal, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still happen, especially if you’re in an area that missed the most recent heavy precipitation event or the heavy snow pack that other areas have received.”
To learn more about current streamflow conditions and the potential for flooding, visit: water.usgs.gov/waterwatch/. To learn more about the potential for drought this summer, visit: www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.