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Winter relief en route; drought worries confirmed

Jeff Caldwell 02/05/2014 @ 7:53am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

It's dry enough in parts of the Plains that crop consultants can take soil samples with a standard probe. That's not the best sign for farmers like Agriculture.com Marketing Talk veteran adviser Shaggy98 as winter's midpoint passes. But the central Kansas farmer has had some snow this week, and that's helping his soil moisture conditions immensely.

"Without a doubt, snowfall will benefit our wheat. I've got most of my wheat drilled into corn stover that is nearly 2 feet tall," he says. "Let it blow . . . I'll catch most of it. Calling for around 6 inches in this area. If we get it, that should equate to roughly 1/2 inch of moisture."

Even with that welcome moisture, Shaggy98 is one of many farmers who's facing dryness that could lead to a growing season drier than the drought year of 2012.

"This winter's weather has been skewed east. The moisture has been pushing to the East Coast and everything from 1-35 west is dry for several weeks now," adds Marketing Talk senior adviser sw363535. "The dry line is working east, and the west side of it has not reached California yet. If that dry system takes six months to cross the U.S., it looks worse than 2012."

Those dry conditions are a reality in much of the nation's center, and as things sit now, a dry remainder of winter and early spring could spell trouble for farmers in the driest parts of the country, says MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney. A look at the precipitation map for the first half of this winter compared to the same period a year ago shows much more widespread moisture deficits in key crop areas.

"It is definitely drier so far this winter in the Plains and western Midwest than it was last winter," Keeney says.

Maps courtesy MDA Weather Services.

Moving forward, Keeney says the prognosis right now isn't great for late winter and early spring moisture to buck the dryness trend.

"The spring outlook doesn’t offer much hope for significant improvement either, especially April and May, so I do think there’s a real concern for wheat this spring," he says.

In the short-term, however, there is relief for farmers growing weary with a winter that's been one of the toughest they've faced in years, Keeney says. Though temperatures are paced by Arctic air and augmented by stiff winds and blowing snow right now, a slow warming trend will likely begin soon.

"The cold will continue there for the next few days, but then I think it will subside for the foreseeable future. Next week will feature a slow warmup, but the week after that will likely trend a lot warmer," he says. "So, there is definitely relief in sight!"

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