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Soggy Conditions Prevail in Plains, Corn Belt

It's been a wet last few days in much of the nation's central third. Even though the rain is badly needed in much of the Plains, it could start to have detrimental effects on that region's winter wheat crop, for which harvest is underway.

Weekend rainfall was heaviest in the northern and western parts of the Corn Belt, with almost 8 inches falling in parts of Nebraska. Heavy rain in northwest Iowa and parts of Minnesota now mean up to 280% of normal seasonal moisture has fallen in an area stretching from the Nebraska-Iowa-South Dakota junction through northeast Minnesota.

"Widespread rainfall occurred across the Corn Belt this weekend with some very impressive totals coming out of eastern Nebraska," says Harvey Freese of Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. "Here, some rain totals include 3.26 inches in Columbus Airport, 3.95 inches at Offutt AFB, 6.83 inches for the Omaha-Millard Airport, and 7.72 inches in Papillion. Elsewhere, most rainfall totals ranged from 0.25 inches to 1.5 inches."

Adds MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney: "Rains were quite heavy across Minnesota and northwest Iowa last week, which will increase wetness concerns and result in some flooding. Rains should be a bit more limited there this week, allowing wetness to ease a bit."

These heavy rains are starting to hamper progress for both wheat in the Plains and row crops in the Corn Belt; for the former, harvest is well underway, but starting to turn into a "slow grind," says market analyst Louise Gartner.

"Too much rain is the main story as it hampers the wheat harvest and begins to stress corn and soybeans," she says. "Downpours, floods, tornadoes, hail, and high winds pretty much describe the week in weather for much of the U.S. growing regions. While some would argue that 'rain makes grain,' even they would have to acknowledge that some places have simply had too much of that rain."

It's not just the most severe weather lately that's caused trouble. Continued rainfall's not being kind to the young corn and soybean crops, especially those planted later on this spring.

"[Showers] will keep areas of excess moisture in place, leading to a shallow-rooted crop in the northwest 1/4 of the Corn/Soy Belt," according to Monday's Commodity Weather Group (CWG) Ag QUICKsheet report. "The most notable river flooding issues will continue for low-lying areas from central Minnesota to the Iowa/Nebraska border, although moderate flooding will also occur along the Iowa/Illinois border. Damage will occur but will be localized."

Another thing that's common with heavy rainfall like this is nutrient loss. After a slow start to planting, the pace picked up late in spring, creating a window for farmers to get fertilizer applied in many areas. That slow start may actually be a blessing now in terms of the likelihood of leaching and runoff, says Iowa State University Extension agronomist John Sawyer.

"The early spring 2014 season was on the cold side, so conversion of ammonium fertilizers to nitrate should have been slower than normal. This could be helpful for avoidance of nitrate losses, as would recent sidedress application of ammonium-containing fertilizers. However, wet soils in June are much more conducive to nitrate loss (compared to early spring) as soils are warm and, with prolonged saturation and tile flow, losses mount," Sawyer says in a university report. "Remember, ammonium is held on the soil exchange complex, but nitrate can leach or be denitrified to nitrogen (N) gasses. Also remember that corn plants do not respond well to saturated soils, and therefore can express symptoms similar to N deficiency when they really are showing excess water stress."

Looking ahead, things will likely stay on the damp side in the Plains through the next week or so. That's good news for the region's overall moisture needs, but the timing isn't the best, and the wheat crop could continue to see declines in quality ratings as harvest drags along. According to CWG, however, it shouldn't last.

"Rains are beginning to expand in the southern Plains and will continue through midweek, with the Delta also increasingly wet this week. This will slow wheat harvest, but the weekend into early July then turns drier. This will limit damage potential, despite the near-term harvest interruptions," according to Monday's CWG report.

In the Midwest, spotty rainfall will continue in the central and eastern Corn Belt in the next few days until another system moves into the waterlogged western and northwestern Corn Belt later in the week. After another substantial shot of moisture late this week, things should moderate, Freese says.

"Thursday wil bring more rain chances to the northern and western Corn Belt with mainly dry weather from central Illinois eastward. Looking beyond, our global models are in fairly good agreement with above-normal temperatures arriving for the six- to 10-day time frame. However, the normally consistent European model has shown significant run-to-run variance in the evolution of the upper-level pattern during this time frame, and as a result confidence is not particularly high in the placement of warmest temperatures and heavy rainfall," he says. "The most recent run would suggest upper-level ridging does not get fully established until early next week, with warmest temperatures across the central and southern Midwest."

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