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Corn Belt dry spell to continue

Agriculture.com Staff 07/13/2007 @ 11:28am

A moisture deficit throughout the Corn Belt has area forecasters and crops specialists in agreement that the corn and soybean crops of the region will soon begin to suffer if rain doesn't fall in the next 10 day to two weeks.

"Fairly scary" is how Purdue University ag economist Chris Hurt describes the conditions in his area going forward from this weekend, with little chance of rain in the forecast beyond spotty showers. Parts of Indiana, like elsewhere from Nebraska to Ohio, currently have a shortfall of as much as six inches of rain since early May.

"A couple of weeks ago, we had something of a reprieve from the dry conditions," Hurt says. "But now, I think we're headed back into a fairly scary period where we're going to be vulnerable to serious crop damage."

To find a major contributor of the current Corn Belt dry spell, one must look 3,500 miles northwest to the Gulf of Alaska, according to Iowa State University ag meteorologist Elwynn Taylor. A lingering low-pressure system in that area known as the "Persistent Pacific Negative Anomaly," Taylor says, typically translates to a moisture deficit in the largest corn-growing parts of the country.

"I have been watching the Gulf of Alaska. For more than 10 days, a low has almost settled into place. When this persists, rain is short north of a line from Kansas City to Chicago," Taylor said this week. "It appears that this may become a serious factor this year."

Despite the growing moisture deficit these conditions are creating, Taylor says it's not yet time to plan on corn yield losses. The probability that yields will be near or exceed a trendline yield of 152 bushels per acre remain just above 50%, while there is a 23% chance of average yields dipping below 133 bushels per acre.

But, as more time without rain passes -- especially in the driest areas of northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota -- the chances of yield losses increase.

"I agree with the assessment of 10 more days before serious yield loss is initiated," Taylor said this week.

The good news is conditions do favor the development of rains in some areas in the near term, but the bad news is these will be sporadic and spotty at best, according to Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. This trend will likely stay true through the end of the month.

"In the larger scheme of things, this will be a system that does little in the way of quelling worries about dry soils, but for localized areas, it can produce a temporary boost to soil moisture and crop prospects," according to Freese-Notis, noting a system that dropped spotty rains in parts of southwestern Iowa, eastern Nebraska and northern Missouri earlier this week. "Overall, the weather pattern shaping up for the rest of this month is not very different from that of yesterday, which is to say that it looks rather ominous for the western Corn Belt.

Freese-Notis meteorologists say after some chances of rain through the middle of next week in the western Corn Belt, "it is doubtful that another good rainfall event is seen during at least the next 10 days."

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