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Favorable Summer, Record Crops Ahead

Midwest farmers, emerging from one of the coldest winters on record, can look forward to a “very favorable” outlook over the spring and summer that may set the stage for record corn and soybean crops in the fall, MDA Weather Services forecasters said.

While a cold start to spring probably will slow planting and germination, excessive rains similar to those that impeded fieldwork last year aren’t in the cards, Kyle Tapley, senior agricultural meteorologist with MDA Weather Services, said during an April 3 conference held near downtown Chicago.

Summer is expected to bring both normal temperatures and rainfall for most of the Midwest, conditions that likely will allow corn and soybean acres to flourish, Tapley said. MDA Weather Services projected U.S. corn production at 14.35 billion bushels, up 3% from the all-time high set last year.

Soybean production is expected to reach 3.58 billion bushels, up 8.8% from 2013 and above the current record of 3.36 billion bushels in 2009, according to MDA Weather Services, which is based in Gaithersberg, Maryland.

As farmers gear up for another planting season, the nation’s agriculture industry continues to grapple with the unusual circumstances of recent years, including severe Midwest drought, heavy rainfall and flooding, and historically high grain prices. MDA Weather Service’s outlook came three days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that farmers will plant a record 81.5 million acres to soybeans.

Despite heavy snowfall over the winter, Tapley said he’s not concerned about flooding risk. Lingering dryness remains in the western Corn Belt, though soil moisture in the eastern areas is “in good shape,” he said.

Tapley cited three “analog” years – 1986, 1994, and 2009 – that bear a resemblance to his firm’s 2014 Midwest outlook. Two of those years produced what were at the time record corn or soybean harvests.

For corn, average yields during those three years were 8.6% to 12% above trend line projections, while soybeans were 1.8% to 16% above trend line. All three “were very good years for corn and soybeans,” Tapley said.

MDA Weather Services estimated average U.S. corn yields this year at 168.4 bushels an acre, up 6% from 2013, and average soybean yields at 46.2 bushels an acre, up 6.7%. Both would be record highs.

Looking further ahead, there is “increasing confidence” an El Niño phenomenon will take hold, Tapley said, citing above-normal subsurface temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean. While current readings are neutral to weak, it’s “fairly likely” an El Niño will develop later this year, he said.

El Niño, typically marked by abnormally warm waters in the central tropical Pacific, is often associated with extreme weather in different parts of the world. For the U.S., the El Niño that’s potentially forming could lead to unusually wet conditions in the South, though likely little widespread impact in the Midwest, Tapley said.

There have been 15 “El Niño summers” since 1950, often accompanied by unusually cool temperatures and normal rainfall, Tapley said. During those years, corn and soybean yields averaged 2.2% and 2.5% above trend line, respectively.

Grain prices continued to climb this week, extending a rally after slumping over the winter. In trading April 3, December corn futures on CME Group in Chicago settled at $5.01½ a bushel, up 11% from the end of last year. November soybean futures ended at $12.03½ a bushel, up 6% from $11.35 at the end of 2013.

Written by Bruce Blythe, a freelance writer for Agriculture.com

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