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Rainfall frustration mounting

A line of thunderstorms moved through the Midwest Wednesday night, providing mild relief to some parched parts of the Corn Belt, but not enough to other areas where a drink is badly needed. The front broke up the heat dome over parts of the region where temperatures were in the 90s and nearing the 100s in some spots, but a longer-term view of the weather conditions doesn't bide well for the most drought-stressed fields.

Between a quarter of an inch and 4 inches of rain fell Wednesday night as a system moved from west to east through the region. But, much of that rain fell in areas where it wasn't needed as badly. Wednesday's moisture exemplifies the trend this spring in corn and soybean country: Rain where it's needed and dryness where it's not needed. A map from MDA EarthSat Weather, Inc., shows with the exception of northwestern Iowa, parts of southern Minnesota and northern Michigan, the region's seen between 25% and 75% of normal precipitation.

"The most significant dryness is currently located across the central Plains, central and southern Midwest and northern Delta," says MDA EarthSat Weather senior ag meteorologist Kyle Tapley. "This dryness, along with above-normal temperatures, has begun to take a toll on the corn and soybean crops, with crop conditions declining significantly in recent weeks. With the crop ahead of schedule this season, the last week of June and first 2 weeks of July will be critical in determining crop production, especially for corn as the yield-determining pollination phase begins."

And, according to MDA data, pollination's not far from reaching the heart of the Corn Belt. About 10% of the crop's pollinating as far north as southern Illinois and Indiana. And, the next 7 days will likely see tasseling move rapidly.

"Corn silking should expand significantly across the central and southern Midwest this week thanks to hot weather, although the heat, along with dry soils, has been stressing the crop," Tapley says.

In the short term, there could be some relief in the form of a cold front that could spark showers in a broad line bisecting the Corn Belt, says Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., ag meteorologist Craig Solberg. But, the front likely won't bring much, if any, relief to the parched region.

"Above normal amounts are found only in some small local areas. This cold front will continue to move southeastward through the rest of the Midwest the next 24 to 36 hours, with the potential for some 0.10-0.50" rainfall and some isolated heavier amounts southeast of a line from south-central MO to northwestern IN to northeastern Lower MI," he says. "Temps of 90 or higher will be confined to the far south and east today, with cooler weather elsewhere, then cooler temps are forecast in all areas on Friday with dry conditions in most of the Midwest."

MDA EarthSat's Donald Keeney agrees: "Confidence in a wetter pattern will remain a bit low until model solutions become more consistent and the rains move forward in the forecast period," he says.

The rainfall "haves and have-nots" trend is growing more and more frustrating for farmers waiting on a rain to shock their crops to life. That's been aggravated by the extreme variability in recent rainfall, with some areas seeing 4 or more inches while others in the driest stretches have struggled to get past a few tenths of an inch.

"It is somewhat surprising to me that a lot of guys are still oblivious to the situation taking place in the eastern Corn Belt," says Marketing Talk veteran contributor Buckley_HF. "Or, do Illinois and Indiana not matter anymore in Midwest corn production? What's 220 [bushels/acre] in Iowa + 0 in Illinois equal?"

The region that's had the greatest moisture shortfall this spring so far is northern Indiana and Ohio; the northern half of both of those states shows less than half of the normal rainfall so farm from May 1 through mid-June, with a pocket of northeastern Indiana having received less than 25% of normal rainfall, according to MDA. Those conditions have Blacksandfarmer's crops at a critical juncture on his farm near Bronson, Michigan.

"It's good that somebody is getting rain," he said late Wednesday. "Here in the eastern belt, it could become an insurance game soon."

And, looking ahead, farmers like Blacksandfarmer may not get the help he needs, Keeney says. Looking 1-2 months ahead, though rainfall chances could improve in some parts of the nation's midsection, the mercury will continue to run warmer than normal.

"The warm conditions will continue to accelerate corn and soybean growth," he says. "Near normal rains across the central Midwest would continue to favor corn and soybean growth, although some dryness may begin to redevelop in the southwestern Midwest."


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