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Will drought stretch into 2013?

Jeff Caldwell 09/13/2012 @ 9:28am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If this outlook's correct, look out.

Iowa State University Extension climatologist and ag meteorologist Elwynn Taylor said recently though there's been a shift away from the La Nina period in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) index, that doesn't necessarily mean it's moving enough in the other direction to show El Nino's anywhere near taking the reins. That's bad news for the prospects of much significant soil moisture recharge between now and next spring, Taylor says.

"There is an unlikely chance of 2013 being an El Nino year, with its record of erasing drought conditions in the Midwest," Taylor said Saturday. "If weather patterns respond to neutral or to an early 2013 development of La Nina, it will be likely that U.S. corn yield will fall below the 30-year trend line for a 4th consecutive year.

"A failure to replenish subsoil moisture and restore stream and river flows would be a major factor in the probability of a below-trend crop in 2013."

That failure to rebuild soil moisture won't happen everywhere, though. MDA EarthSat Weather senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney says though there likely won't be a "widespread wholesale reduction in drought conditions," the southern Plains, southern Midwest, Delta and Southeast will see some relief.

"I would agree that 2013 is unlikely to be an El Nino year. We are currently in a weak El Nino, and this should continue through the fall and winter, but it should weaken next spring and return to a neutral situation by later next spring. We indeed do not anticipate a widespread wholesale reduction in drought conditions, especially across the central and northern Plains and northwestern Midwest," Keeney says. "However, we cannot say that just because 2013 will not likely be an El Nino year, that this will mean a repeat of the drought that occurred this year. What this means is that El Nino or La Nina will not likely dominate U.S. weather, so this leaves the door open for many other teleconnections to dominate."

Though yield expectations have been low for this year for some time, an outlook painting a similar picture for next year's crop is jarring to some, even though many expect grain demand to continue in lockstep with yield potential.

"The thing you need to remember is that demand is shrinking as we speak. Liquidation continues in livestock, exports are terrible and ethanol is hanging in the balance," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk frequent contributor 67guy.  "Anyone who thinks ethanol is safe is out of their tree."

But, Keeney and Freese-Notis Weather senior ag meteorologist Craig Solberg agree that it's still too early to tell how things will turn out next year. One thing's likely, though: Even if conditions are drier than normal next year, it likely won't be to the degree of severity of this year's drought.

"About the only thing that I am going to rule out for 2013 at this point is having a drought as bad as this year. In my mind, crop losses this year are going to end up being comparable to those seen in 1993, 1988, 1983, and 1974. In all of those years we saw crop conditions recover during the following year," Solberg says. "Even in the Dust Bowl days, severe droughts in 1934 and 1936 were followed by a recovery in conditions in 1935 and 1937."

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