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Fine Planting Weather Seen Followed By Dry Conditions, Hillaker Says

Most Iowa soils to enter planting season dry.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With the current soil moisture levels considered to be very low, all eyes are on upcoming weather patterns for the U.S. spring planting season.

Dry conditions throughout much of central and the eastern half of Iowa may enter spring that way, considering the winter’s cold temperatures have kept the ground frozen.

Harry Hillaker, Iowa’s State Climatologist, says the current La Nina weather phenomenon pattern is expected to fade away in mid-to-late Spring.

“But, that was the thinking last year, but it never went away. La Nina was in a neutral territory for awhile, it faded and then came back, but never went away,” Hillaker told farmers attending this week’s Iowa Farming Power Show.

For Iowa, a La Nina weather event brings average spring conditions, but above average dry summer conditions and above average cool conditions.

“The later we get into the growing season, it’s more and more likely that conditions will be on the dry side. And, if we’re lucky, temperatures won’t be so high, helping us eke by with less moisture than usual,” Hillaker says.

In 2012, a well known La Nina year, we had a lack of rain and high temperatures.

“That was detrimental to a lot of the crop production that year. But, most La Nina’s we don’t have that excessive heat in the summer,” Hillaker says.

With the exception of the years 1999, 2000, and 2001, when the La Nina weather never ended, the pattern normally ends in the summer months.

Soil Moisture

While central and east-central Iowa soils are very very dry, South-central and Southeastern Iowa have the worst soil moisture levels.

Outside of Iowa, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Oklahoma topsoil moisture to be 93% very short-short, while Kansas moisture levels are rated 79% very short-short.

Does Weather Matter?

When asked how the U.S. produced its third largest corn crop in 2012, during a multi-decade drought, Iowa’s weather expert pointed towards better seed technology and the timing of weather events.

“I’ve talked with farmers about that year. One farmer told me that he had a dry July, but it rained just the right times. Often times it comes down to when that rain comes rather than how much,” Hillaker says.

Hillaker adds, “Also in 2012, (with the exception of northwest Iowa), the state had pretty good soil moisture coming into the season. And, we had fairly early planting, which also helped.”

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