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How Flooding Will Affect Planting Date Is a ‘Wait-and-See’ Approach

There is hope that above-average temps in April and May will speed up the drying process.

The snow is starting to melt across a lot of the Corn Belt, which usually means spring is right around the corner. Yet, the melting snow, along with consistent rainfall, is also causing severe flooding through the heart of the Midwest.

Record-high water levels have already been recorded in rivers in Iowa and Nebraska. Water levels are also high in northern Kansas and southern Wisconsin. The flooding puts the beginning of planting season in question for farmers.

“This year will be a notable flood year for much of the Mississippi, including its major tributaries such as the Ohio and Missouri rivers, factoring in flooding that has already occurred and what is likely to occur moving forward,” according to Alex Sosnowski of Accuweather.

It isn’t completely clear what that means for farmers. 

“From an agricultural standpoint, this is a wait-and-see situation as to exactly how bad the flooding will be when planting time arrives,” AccuWeather Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler said in a story on Accuweather.com.

Mohler went on to say that even in heavy river flooding, only a small part of agricultural lands are affected by the water. Yet, there will be fields away from rivers where “water lingers in the fields for many weeks into the planting season.”

What will spring look like?

The drying-out process will get a strong start over the next week as planting season approaches. The next four days should have no precipitation throughout the affected areas, according to Paul Markert, a senior meteorologist at Radiant Solutions. Markert said a small system will come in next week to Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois.

“In total, it will be much better and much drier conditions through the next 10 days,” Markert said. “Especially in the six- to 10-day [forecast] because it warms up. From Wednesday onward it should warm up.”

Iowa had its coldest April on record last year, which delayed planting. Then temperatures warmed up substantially and Iowa had the third warmest month of May in state history. Despite the flooding, this season could have a similar bounce back. Markert says he is expecting both April and May to have above-average temperatures, and for rainfall to be near average for both months, potentially helping dry out the fields from March flooding.

How will the record-cold winter temperatures affect planting?

According to a release from the University of Illinois, despite the record-low winter temperatures across the Midwest, soil temperatures averaged slightly warmer than normal. While the warmer soil can help speed up the thawing period, it also means field crop pests won’t be reduced. 

“A wide range of air temperatures occurred in Illinois this winter with periods of warmer temperatures in the 60s and 70s and extreme cold where lows fell to the -30s,” the release said. Soil temperatures followed a similar pattern, according to Jennie Atkins with the Illinois State Water Surveys Water and Atmospheric Resources Monitoring Program. “Soil temperatures at 4 inches under bare soil averaged 36.5°F. for December, January, and February, which is 1.5°F. higher than normal and equal to that of last winter.”

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