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Corn Belt Rain to Boost Crops, But Hard to Pinpoint Where

With much of Iowa and Illinois (the biggest growers of corn and soybeans in the U.S.) receiving little to no rain the past couple of weeks, growers may be wondering when they’re going to see some precipitation in the forecast.

The answer: It’s complicated.

David Streit, an agricultural meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland, said it’s likely some of the Midwest will get some rain soon, but storms will be intermittent and patchy, so predicting exactly where the precipitation will fall is difficult to pinpoint.

“It’s not quite straightforward,” he said. “None of the systems that are producing showers are very organized. We have three bands of showers going across the Midwest (this week) but anybody can get left out.”

Little or no rain has fallen in much of a wide swath of land stretching from eastern Nebraska through Indiana in the past 14 days, according to the National Weather Service. The agency said “periodic showers” are expected in the Corn Belt and into the Northern Plains this week, but it didn’t pinpoint an exact location.

The most likely areas to miss out on rainfall in the next seven days are western Corn Belt states including Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. Several weather models are showing little rainfall in parts of eastern Illinois and western Indiana, Streit said.

Hot weather is also a concern for farmers whose recently emerged crops have been forced to endure temperatures in the 90s with heat indexes in the triple digits. That likely will continue through the end of this week when temperatures then moderate back into the 70s and 80s, he said.

Another heat wave is then expected to roll into the Corn Belt, further stressing crops, Streit said.

It’s not all bad news, however, as rainfall is expected – albeit intermittently – throughout much of the Midwest in the next seven to 10 days. That will help build much-needed topsoil moisture in areas where rain falls.

Soil moisture levels seem like they’re in decent shape right now with subsoil and topsoil content both topping 90% last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The problem is, Streit said, corn and beans in some areas were planted into wet soils. That translates into shallow root systems, so if the weather turns summer-like just before pollination, that could spell trouble for growers.

“Corn is pretty darned resilient until about a week or two before the pollination process,” he said. “If we get into the second to fourth week of July, that’s when you make or break your yield. That’s when we’re going to be focused on.”

It’s not just corn and bean growers keeping an eye on the skies. Spring wheat producers in the Northern Plains are worried about their crops after several weeks of dry weather. Rain fell in the past 48 hours, which likely will help crops, but it may not be enough in the long run if weather turns dry again.

“The rainfall activity (on Monday) in the area will perk that crop right back up,” he said. “Wheat is a grass, so it’s like a lawn – give it some water and it greens back up. The problem is, there’s not a lot of rain coming for those guys.”

As with corn, spring wheat’s most-critical growing period will be in early to mid-July. If the region doesn’t get another round of rainfall (and none is in the forecast for at least the next 10 days), the crop in the Northern Plains could be in trouble.

The recent precipitation helped, but crops will drink up any moisture that fell quickly, Streit said.

“That crop will be heading next month, so if we don’t get a timely rain event in the first week or two of July, we’ll be right back to where we were two days ago,” he said. “Another thing that worries me is that the rain skipped over the most important part of the spring Wheat Belt (on Monday), and I worry that was its last hurrah. So spring wheat has more immediate issues from a dryness standpoint than corn.”

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