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Strange weather

Agriculture.com Staff 06/01/2007 @ 9:23am

Being a non-irrigated farmer in Nebraska, I am used to weather extremes. In the mid 1970's, my area suffered from four years of raising practically no corn while the rest of the country was enjoying good crops at very high prices. I farmed enough years to have seen a lot of crazy weather.

Some people look at crop conditions today and think that this weather must surely be unusual. The eastern Midwest has had very little precipitation since winter. At the same time, my area had the wettest May since the 1800's. At my farm, the precipitation totaled almost 15 inches since planting began. Fortunately, there were enough days without rain that most people got their crops in the ground.

I think I know why this situation exists. As the storm fronts move from west to east, at some point they encounter a dry weather system and turn to go around it. Dry places stay dry. Where the fronts turn get dumped on. I remember this happening in 1988 much as it did this past month. We had several nice rains in May of 1988 while the rest of the Corn Belt suffered from one of the worst droughts in history. In 1977, I could watch the fronts approach my county and then turn and go north. It was the worst production year in my career, while the counties north of Omaha had bumper crops.

There are two possible outcomes to this kind of weather situation. One is that the dryness moves west and a bigger area suffers in later months. The other is that it moves east and places that are now dry get much needed rain. My experience tells me that weather extremes seldom change gradually. In 1995 and 1984 we had very wet weather in May and planting was delayed. The summer turned extremely dry. Yields were reduced from being hot and dry, as well as from late planting. In 1977, after a terrible June and July, a foot of rain fell in August. By then, it was too late for to save the corn, but soybeans were good.

I am not a weather forecaster. My experience suggests that there is a good chance of more weather extremes this summer. Areas of western and central Nebraska that have suffered from years of continuous drought have had torrential rains.

Action in the grain markets hints that there is more than weather moving prices. This week has seen further strengthening of the corn basis. At the same time, nearby futures have gained on deferred contracts. This is a sign that demand is real, not just speculators adding long futures positions. It is the time of year when anything can happen!

Being a non-irrigated farmer in Nebraska, I am used to weather extremes. In the mid 1970's, my area suffered from four years of raising practically no corn while the rest of the country was enjoying good crops at very high prices. I farmed enough years to have seen a lot of crazy weather.

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