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Rainfall picking up in the Corn Belt

Jeff Caldwell 10/17/2012 @ 10:46am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

There may be a little whiplash ahead for a few corn and soybean farmers. After a record-fast pace to corn harvest so far this fall, the brakes may be screeching over the next few days, with increasing rain moving into the Midwest and delaying the collection of what's left in the field.

Through the rest of this week, weather experts expect harvest conditions to deteriorate for those looking to spend that time in the combine. Rainfall's moving into the Corn Belt and, though it won't be enough to put much of a dent in the soil moisture shortage in the region after this summer's drought, it will bring progress to a standstill in a lot of areas.

"The system has started to produce rain across the northern Plains and parts of the western Corn Belt, but just very light totals so far," Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., senior meteorologist Craig Solberg said Wednesday morning. "The system will be picking up a lot more moisture for this afternoon and tonight, though, and it will be able to produce much bigger rainfall totals (locally over an inch) and even strong/severe thunderstorms for Illinois southward into the northern Delta. Moisture will then be wrapping all the way around the system so that new rains will break out in the northwestern Corn Belt and northern Plains for tomorrow and lasting into tomorrow night."


That rain will be desperately needed, even if it delays harvest a few days. But unfortunately, it won't yet mean much to the overall drought stress picture heading into winter, says MDA EarthSat Weather senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney.

"Rains are expected to increase across the region today through Friday, which will slow harvesting a bit," he says. "The rains will improve moisture for wheat in the west-central Midwest. Meanwhile, drier weather across the central Plains will allow significant moisture shortages to persist, especially in Nebraska, northern and western Kansas, and northeast Colorado."

Looking further ahead, Keeney says the next one to two months will likely see a continued moisture deficit from the Plains to the western Corn Belt, though the Delta region should benefit from more rainfall. But, on the bright side, temperatures will stay a little warmer than normal for a while, knocking back the potential for winterkill damage to the Plains winter wheat crop, at least in the near term. But that doesn't mean it will exactly be smooth sailing for wheat farmers, Keeney says.

"The warm conditions across the northern tier will keep freeze threats lower for wheat. The precipitation outlook has trended wetter across the southeastern Plains into the central and northern Delta. The rains across the Delta would slow any remaining harvesting, but would improve moisture for winter wheat," he says. "The outlook remains rather dry across the west-central Midwest, which would favor any remaining corn and soybean harvesting. Near- to below-normal rains across the central Plains will likely maintain moisture shortages, which will allow stress to persist on winter wheat. The wheat will likely enter dormancy poorly established, which will make the wheat more vulnerable to winterkill."

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