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4 of top 18 corn growing states ‘on track’ after wet March

March has been very wet for multiple states in the Eastern Corn Belt. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor published on Thursday, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin are free of drought as April begins. 

Climatologists and farmers were mostly positive about the upcoming planting season thanks to the large amounts of precipitation in the past 30 days. 
In a couple of states, there are areas of interest that climatologists will watch, not with concern, but with a cautious eye as the calendar turns.


Western tip of state in good spirits as rains, wind balance out dry winter

For farmers Jane Marshall and Jim Newton – whose farms in western Ohio sit near the Indiana line in Preble County  – the rainy month of March has been positive on the whole. In their pocket of the state, precipitation fell at a rate of over 200% of the average. A total of 8.17 inches fell from February 28 to March 30, according to data from the Iowa State University Environmental Mesonet.

Map of Ohio with precipitation numbers for March in inches
Iowa Environmental Mesonet

Newton said the rain has not delayed any of his field work, and he still expects his row crops to get planted in mid-April.
“I would say we’re probably on-track. The forecasts are showing more rain,” Newton says. “When we get these big rainfalls, the first inch soaks in and the rest is purely runoff after that.

Newton was clear to say a continuation of the consistent heavy rain in the coming weeks could cause issues, but at this time he wasn’t worrying.

“We won’t pray that it cuts off now, because you may get what you wish and not get another rain for a long time,” he adds.
Marshall’s dairy farm raises crops for their livestock, and normally plants later than most row crop farmers in the area. She said the wind has helped keep some of the wetness from sticking around too long and was pleased with conditions for this time of year. Unless there’s a lot of rain in April, she’s not concerned about the planting season ahead.


Central part of state in good shape, but southern Illinois under watch due to consistent rains

The deluge of rain in southern Illinois over the past three months has caught the attention of Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford.

Southern Illinois has seen around 200% of its average precipitation to this point in the year. The region saw 5 to 10 inches above normal precipitation in March. Because of the higher than average precipitation, Ford said there hasn’t been much field activity in the southern part of the state yet.

map of Illinois with percent of precipitation in March compared to average
Iowa Environmental Mesonet

“This is typically a time we’d see folks start to get out a lot and do some spring applications on double-crop wheat or in some places begin planting,” Ford said. “From what I’ve heard there really hasn’t been much activity there because they’ve been so wet.”

Ford adds, it has been equally wet in northern Illinois, but planting doesn’t typically start for another two to three weeks in that region.

While the climatologist is not concerned about delays at this point, he’ll be keeping an eye on the area in case the rain continues. He added some delays in the southern part of the state are anticipated, but at this time they’re not expected to be extensive.

Ford expressed confidence in central and northern Illinois planting conditions thanks to a turnaround in moisture from just three months ago. In late December 2022 the Drought Monitor indicated 77.25% of the state was suffering from moisture stress of some degree.


Southeast in good position for late-April planting season

Nearly all of Indiana reported moisture stress just three months ago, with 99.99% of the state rated abnormally dry, or worse, as of December 27, 2022. Now, Indiana is completely drought free thanks to a very wet March and solid precipitation in January and February. 
Southern Indiana got particularly drenched in March, with a map from the Indiana State Climate Institute indicating much of the state’s southern half got between 6 and 8 inches of precipitation. That’s 175% of the average precipitation usually seen during March

Map of Indiana with numbers sharing percent of precipitation compared to average in March
Iowa Environmental Mesonet

Given how dry the state was at the end of 2022, farmers aren’t concerned about the extra precipitation, said Becks Hybrid’s Regional Agronomy Manager for Indiana Steve Gauck. In southeast Indiana particularly, there’s plenty of time for the soil to dry out before planting begins, he says.
“[If] we start getting a couple more weeks into this and more rain, there’ll be some concerns of it being wet because it’ll be slower to dry out if the soil profile’s full,” he adds.
Differences in soil type across the state will likely mean a staggered start to the planting season. Sandier soils in the west and southwest will dry out much more rapidly than the tighter clays found in southeast Indiana.
While the east and southeast parts of the state wait and continue to prepare to plant the end of April, Gauck encourages farmers in the area to be ready for windows of opportunity that may pop up earlier. 

“Be ready to take advantage of an early break if we get it,” Gauck said. “The advice I give farmers is, ‘Get your planters ready. Be ready.’”


All eyes on snowy northern tip

Up in Wisconsin, Steve Vavrus, interim state climatologist, is keeping his eye on the northern-to-northwest corner. In the past three months, the region has seen a large quantity of snow. Timing spring snow to melt is a waiting game for area farmers.
The quicker snow melts, the higher the flood risk in a region that, in some areas, has had double the average March precipitation, per the Iowa State University Environmental Mesonet. Much of that, Vavrus said, was in the form of snow.

map of Wisconsin with percentages compared to average precipitation in March
Iowa Environmental Mesonet

Snow melt is difficult to predict, he added.

“It’s not clear how much of that water is going to percolate into the soil because it depends on whether the soil is frozen,” Vavrus said. “In southern areas that don’t have as much snow cover, I think we have a clearer handle on things and the situation with drought is looking really good in Wisconsin.”

In far northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, snow is abundant. If it melts quickly, serious flooding concerns could arise, he notes.

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