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Spring weather battles to continue -- outlook

Jeff Caldwell 04/23/2013 @ 9:00am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

As rain and snow continue to fall and commingle the worst of winter and spring for farmers growing increasingly itchy to at least get started planting their 2013 corn crop, a new outlook confirms growing suspicions: Some areas are going to continue to fight wet, cool conditions well beyond the normal planting window.

The wettest areas are generally going to stay that way through much of May, while the drier areas are going to see planting progress, yet feel stress from the general moisture shortfall, according to the seasonal outlook released by Commodity Weather Group, LLC, (CWG) on Tuesday.

"The outlook for May has shifted slightly wetter in the southern Midwest but still shows limited areas of above-normal rainfall in the Midwest," says CWG president Matt Rogers. "The far western Belt would tend to see the least planting interruptions and the southwestern Belt (parts of Illinois and Missouri) may finish out a bit wetter than average, but the most likely area to struggle with shifts in planted acreage with this current forecast would be in the Red River Basin."

That outlook for the Red River basin area in the northern Plains and Corn Belt coincides with an update released Monday by Greg Gust, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist in the agency's Grand Forks, North Dakota, office. It shows that the river's crest -- well above flood stage -- won't come until the last days of April at the earliest.

"The North Central River Forecast Center (NCRFC) has issued the first deterministic flood forecast for Fargo [that] pushes Fargo above major flood stage on Sunday, April 28. No crest is expected yet . . . crest is not within the seven-day window," Gust says. "Response rate is highly dependent on temperature regime over the next few days, as snow pack recovers from this cold snap."

The tardiness foreshadowed by this outlook has Rogers already speculating there could be a lot of farmers changing their minds about what they'll be planting once conditions do eventually improve.

"The late snowpack and resulting flooding in late April/early May as temperatures warm to start May could cause some shift to either soybeans or spring wheat based on similar cases," Rogers says.

Looking further down the road, Rogers says although a shift toward an El Nino pattern could mark an improvement in moisture conditions over last year for much of the nation's center and Southeast, the signs aren't the clearest right now. If it holds true, yields could "still be held closer to or just slightly below trend," Rogers says. However, with such weakness in the bellwether weather signals heading into late spring and summer, that return to near-trend crops isn't a guarantee.

"While there is still the chance that the summer could revert to a more aggressively hot/dry pattern that would pose more substantial yield threats to corn/soybeans, the greater risk remains for our forecast to become less threatening to crop yields. It does not currently appear likely that a particularly wet summer pattern will develop, but there is a notable risk that the forecast could slip cooler," Rogers says. "If current trends in the Pacific continue, our forecast will continue to shift toward a less threatening summer outlook."

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Waiting For the Planting Window