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Wetness status across the Corn Belt remains a concern

While 2020 could be wetter than average, it’s shaping up to be dryer than 2019.

Planting season on the horizon alone already adds stress to a farmer’s day-to-day life. 

Aside from getting everything prepared, COVID-19, fluctuating markets, and other forms of uncertainty are added to the equation.

The other big piece of uncertainty – and arguably one of the most important – is the weather. The entire Corn Belt is sensitive to any kind of excess rain that could arrive this spring, and Successful Farming talked to Dennis Todey, Director of the USDA Midwest Climate Hub, to provide an update on the planting season weather.

Read more: Expect to see more floods and droughts this spring and summer

Having a Plan

Before diving into the specifics, a point of emphasis from Todey was for farmers to have a plan in case 2020 brings a soggy spring. Todey anticipates a better year this year, but it could still bring a fair share of wetness. 

“We don’t expect it to be as bad as last year, so there will some windows to plant,” Todey says. “The thing we want people to do is to remain optimistic, keep thinking ahead, but also set out plans for looking ahead for options if it’s too wet … We had a lot of problems last year with people making last-minute, big decisions with incomplete information.”

Hopefully, Midwest farmers won’t have too many issues with working around the weather in 2020, but Todey says farmers should have a target schedule to maintain if wetness generates more headaches. 

There should be a target window beforehand for the completion of planting and if that day arrives with incomplete planting, farmers should have a plan in place to help decide which actions to take moving forward – whether it’s prevented planting, waiting a couple of days to reevaluate, or something else. 

Read more: Increased risk of spring flooding in Central and Southeastern states

Planting Outlook

Successful Farming has talked with Todey each month in 2020, and he’s maintained a consistent view of the Corn Belt’s spring weather. He’s mostly been concerned about the moisture in the soil, but he remains optimistic that Mother Nature will be better this year than last year.

“Our situation has not changed a great deal since last time,” Todey says. “We have had a couple positive things happen. From a flooding standpoint, we’ve not had additional big snows. Even in the Plains we really haven’t had additional big snows, and the meltdown has been relatively straightforward. 

“That has eased the flood risk a little bit, but it has not gone away. There are still definite flood risk possibilities pretty much anywhere across the Corn Belt.”

Todey cites the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service reports, highlighting the Mississippi River, the Red River of the North, and the James River in South Dakota.

The three rivers being flood risks doesn’t present a new trend, but it’s something to keep an eye on if there’s additional rain. 

On the soil side, Todey says areas in Iowa might be a little better than they were last year. Overall, the Plains are similar or worse, and the east portion of the Corn Belt is beginning to face more wetness from recent rains. 

“There’s no place in the Corn Belt right now where there’s not at least some level of concern on wetness,” Todey says. “It just varies in severity from place to place.”

Read more: Predictions today, prescriptions tomorrow: research aims to convert data into optimal solutions

Evaporation

With the wetness in the soil, a few factors will be important this spring to help minimize the muddiness in fields.

Todey lists four pieces to evaporation: temperature, the dryness in the air, wind, and sunlight. 

Looking at the Climate Prediction Center’s three-month outlook for April, May, and June, the Midwest holds a slight probability that temperatures will be warmer than average. On the flip side, though, precipitation also has a higher probability of more rainfall than average.

It’s important to note that these are probabilities that remain fluid. 

With that said, Todey breaks down what the probabilities mean in terms of evaporation for the Corn Belt if the probabilities remain accurate. 

“The additional warmth coupled with those other things like additional wind, maybe some drier air would help to dry conditions out, but we also have an increased chance of precipitation,” Todey says. “Computer models and recent trends have indicated that wetter than average is still likely the case this spring.

“If we had that [warmth] and near normal or maybe a little dry soil, it wouldn’t be a big issue, [but] because we have wet soils already, that’s going to be hard to change and anything near to above average precipitation from here on is going to slow planting progress and produce slow fieldwork.”

To read previous spring outlooks from Successful Farming, follow the links below.

From January: Another wet Corn Belt spring planting season is not being ruled out

From February: Spring Corn Belt flooding concerns persist before planting season

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