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Drought shrinks, delays continue

Jeff Caldwell 04/18/2013 @ 8:51am Agricultural content creator and marketer.

The drought is rapidly receding on its eastern front, with now just under 1/2 of Iowa facing a moisture shortfall.

Further west, the Plains region still faces drought -- some still of the most severe category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor -- but there's been major improvement over the last week, according to the Monitor's weekly update released Thursday morning. Overall, the U.S. saw an almost 5% decline in drought conditions. Now, just shy of 58% of the nation's under some kind of drought stress, down from just under 63% in last week's Drought Monitor.

The improvements in drought conditions -- though coming at arguably the worst time of year because of widespread planting delays -- are of near-record proportions; Iowa saw a statewide average rainfall total higher than it's been in more than 50 years on Wednesday.

"Rainfall was plentiful over much of the state on Wednesday as shown by the featured map of NOAA NMQ precipitation estimates. These estimates are primarily based off of RADAR information and show a large swath of the state in the 3-6 inch total range for Wednesday. So we are rapidly transitioning from a drought condition to flooding now with more precipitation on the way along with snow for northern Iowa," according to Thursday's commentary on the Iowa Environmental Mesonet. "Based on some preliminary IEM estimates, yesterday's statewide averaged precipitation was 1.93 inches, which would be the highest calendar day total since 13 September 1961!"

Though the rainfall's been steady and somewhat maddening for farmers aching to get started planting this year's corn crop, that planting window will likely open and close frequently in the next month, forecasters say. Though things could dry out in parts of the nation's center enough to allow planters to roll in the next few days, it's likely going to be a spring of fits and spurts of planting progress, according to Thursday's Commodity Weather Group (CWG) Ag QUICKsheet.

"Up to a 4-day window of drier weather could allow corn seeding to pick up early next week, mainly in the southeastern 1/4 of the belt where total storm amounts should be lightest. However, another storm (mostly .50 to 2” totals) is projected from the central and southeastern Plains into the southern and eastern Midwest Monday to Wednesday before a similar break ahead of a weaker 11 to 15 day system," according to CWG. "Temperatures moderate in the 11 to 15 day, allowing soils to warm in all but far northern corn areas. While progress will occur in between shower events, the southern and eastern rains will keep corn seeding running behind normal overall."

Time for 'Plan B?'

Though corn planting's now into the "late" stage, some farmers say it's an irritation more than it is a legitimate drawback to crop potential. Still, that's already got some thinking about changing some plans.

"Plan 'B' to to plant beans! But seriously, I`m not worried yet. I cut my teeth on springs like this. It`s dry in the subsoil so it`ll soak up a lot," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk advisor BA Deere. "I`ve seen years where we go into April with a surplus and then it rains an inch every other day, and we end up mudding it in the 20th of May...I`m still here."

Adds Marketing Talk senior contributor buckfarmer: "My Plan B usually just means changes like more or less tillage according to soil type, topography and drainage. And a lot less sleep. I've had good luck deep ripping or chisel plowing in March and April. Don't know about May."

And while it's still a little early to go into panic-mode in terms of getting the crop planted, the rain delays could be laying the groundwork for an extremely tight domestic corn supply picture later on this year, especially if harvest is later than normal.

"I need to take a deep breath and say 'yeah, we've been through this before,'" says Marketing Talk senior contributor idalivered. "Last year, most of the Corn Belt was done in September and 1.2 billion went right into the corn pipeline. We could have a fantastic crop, but August could be really interesting as far as corn supplies go."


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