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Western Corn Belt moisture concerns intensify

Agriculture.com Staff 07/18/2007 @ 2:21pm

It may be coming down to do-or-die time in terms of crop-saving moisture in parts of the Corn Belt.

Even though CBOT corn and soybean futures were rocked earlier this week as rains fell in the central and eastern Corn Belt, farmers in western parts of the region remain necessarily hopeful that they'll receive rain to make up for the moisture deficit of June and much of July.

"We're up to 1.1 inches in the last five weeks," writes Agriculture Online Marketing Talk discussion group poster sideways, who adds his area received around 0.3 inch of rain on Monday night and Tuesday morning. "It's the same story as last year: Bone dry and hot through pollination. Last year, we took 60 bushels per acre off (all acres) from the year before.

"I'm not trying to be pessimistic, but this year looks worse than last year thanks to compaction problems from too much early rainfall and mudding the corn in."

Many farmers say even less rain has fallen in areas like eastern Nebraska, western Iowa, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. "Not even enough rain to keep the dust down in northeast Nebraska," writes Marketing Talk poster NENebraska.

In the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa, areas, for example, the last month has been one of the driest in history, according to QT Weather meteorologist Allen Motew. In Sioux Falls, .01 inch of rain fell in the period from June 23 to July 16, making it the second-driest stretch for the area and the driest summer timeframe since 1971. The same period was the driest for the Sioux City area since 1936.

"The tri-state areas around Sioux Falls and Sioux City have experienced one of the driest midsummer periods on record in recent weeks," Motew says. "While three-week-long periods of relatively dry weather are not unusual once or twice a summer, it is not usually this dry."

Moving forward from the next two days, moisture chances will likely decrease in the most thirsty areas as a cold front brings drier areas into Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Between this pattern and already below-normal soil moisture levels, rain chances in the next two days, Motew says, could be either a "drought breaker" or "drought maker.

"Taking the driest of the dry and adding in the soil moisture, then the most stressed crop areas are west of Minneapolis in south-central Minnesota and extreme northwestern and southwestern Iowa," he says.

In the longer term, more seasonable conditions should settle in over the Corn Belt, though temperatures in parts of the region may be slightly higher than normal, according to Dynamic Predictables meteorologist Al Peterlin. This could mean the crop stress from previous and current dry, hot conditions could manifest itself more severely during the typically drier mid- to late-summer period.

"Recent rains across the Corn Belt have added to the 'good look' of this year's crop, and it may be masking some inner strife. Crops in 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004 looked about as nice, but the amount of soil moisture reserves in early to mid July then was significantly better in each of these years than 2007," Peterlin says. "Soil moisture reserves are diminishing quickly from the Southeast, up the Tennessee Valley and into the Ohio Valley. Add in dry soils across Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and timely rains will mean more to this crop than almost any season since 1999."

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