Spring planting outlook – Dry!

The good news: the driest spring planting conditions in 9 years. The bad news: a very dry year continuing in 2021.

2020 is almost in the history books, so let’s talk 2021 spring planting weather. Wait a second ... we just finished harvesting and need a break before thinking about next year. A much deserved break, indeed. Now back to spring 2021.

Four major climate cycles started aligning in 2020, bringing a dramatic shift toward drier weather across North and South America; the exception was the hurricane-plagued soggy southeast United States. The other major cycles are the cold phase of the North Pacific cycle called the Pacific decadal oscillation
cycle, a continued warm phase of the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation cycle, and the weakest solar minimum sun cycle in more than 100 years. It is rare for all the cycles and statistical trends to align – a 100-year event in some respects. 

The first cycle is the unusually strong La Niña that is now trending much greater
than models had suggested just a few months ago. The colder-than-normal equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures will likely peak this winter and then slowly abate in 2021. The weather effects will continue well into summer 2021, and this is a drought cycle. It is good news for the driest spring planting in nine years across the United States and the Corn Belt, but ultimately leads to slow emergence and risk to yields for many as the season progresses.

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This is a big shift from the past two years, when 36% of the country had dry to drought-like conditions by Memorial Day 2020 and only 9% in May 2019. It’s very likely we’ll have a period in 2021 when the United States tops 70% of the country in D1-D4 drought phases. Spring 2021 planting conditions are more likely to resemble 2002, 2012, and 2013, when over 60% of the country was in dry phases by May, a wholesale change from the past five years of moderately wet planting conditions.

Last year, spring planting was the coldest in over 35 years and third snowiest across the Corn Belt; 2021 will very likely be the warmest in nine years, fifth warmest in 35-plus years. The risk for a late freeze after planting is low in 2021. With below-average national snowfall and very limited snow cover this winter, it sounds like a dusty planting season ahead. In warmer and drier spring seasons like this, it will be very important to consider a more drought-tolerant seed variety along with more herbicides and insecticides as the weeds and bugs will also be out in force early.

Unfortunately, this pattern suggests another very active hurricane season in 2021 with Florida more likely in the crosshairs as opposed to the North Central Gulf, which had a record number of hurricane landfalls in 2020.  A mild and wetter winter and spring across Florida very likely brings favorable conditions for the spread of HLB – citrus greening – with favorable conditions for both the spread of the bacteria and insects that carry it to other trees.

God bless our farmers. It is never easy with challenges every step of the way from every direction. For now, enjoy the break, and have a great winter.

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