An Odd Mix

The corn crop in the area is widely divergent, with some corn, like this just west of Yankton, now tasseling. However, other corn crops are not so far along, and some fields couldn’t be planted at all following the soggy spring.

As mid-summer nears, farmers across the region are finding themselves in an odd situation in terms of weather conditions.

The wet spring has saturated many fields and hindered some crop development, but those conditions also leave crops more susceptible to flash drought conditions.

Warmer days are needed to keep crops growing, but hot conditions can also damage the crops.

“It’s quite a combination of things,” said Kentucky state climatologist Stuart Foster during the monthly North Central U.S. Climate Summary and Outlook Webinar Thursday. “There are things that don’t seem to fit together on the same page. But in a very unusual period, they do.”

Besides reviewing conditions for time periods ranging from the last 12 months to the past month, Foster also talked about the latest forecasts, released Thursday, which may be problematic for some growers.

The August forecast for the Yankton region calls for cooler-than-normal temperatures and wetter-than-normal conditions.  

In particular, the outlook for the last week of July indicates a possibility of a significant cooldown as cold air plunges down from Canada. But that should also reduce the chances of rainfall.

“There’s a very high probability of much-below normal temperatures dipping down into the southeastern U.S., reflecting an invasion by a cold front dipping much farther south than would be typical this time of year.” Foster said. “It should bring some cooler temperatures and some much drier air.”

The three-month forecast, ranging from August through October, sees equal chances of above-normal and below-normal temperatures, but with slightly elevated chances of moisture.

The wet spring put a real dent in the corn crop, particularly in the plains. Foster noted that South Dakota corn development currently shows silking at 9%, which is being 12% below the five-year average. In Nebraska, silking is at 11%, which is approximately 20% behind the five-year-average.

“We’ve got some challenges there on corn,” Foster said. “The late planting date is a big concern.”

The excess moisture in the soil is also not allowing corn to develop deep roots because the moisture the plants need is already at hand near the surface. That situation leaves the fields prone to sudden stress due to flash drought.

“It’s not that there’s a particularly high likelihood (of flash drought), but crops would be particularly vulnerable to it should it develop,” Foster noted.

The late planting of corn could have an impact this fall when the threat of frost grows. However, meteorologists said Thursday it was too soon to predict that possibility. It was noted that the trend across the corn belt in recent years is for a later frost.

The soybean crop is looking better, but Foster said many soybean fields are not canopying, which is where the beans grow over the rows and crowd out weed development.

In other points Thursday:

• A review of the past year showed that Nebraska had its wettest ever 12-month period from July 2018-June 2019. South Dakota was also well above normal during that time period.

• In the past month, daily maximum temperatures across much of the eastern Dakotas and Nebraska have been running about normal, but “average minimum temperatures have been much warmer than normal,” Foster said.

• The El Nino effect continues to weaken, with possibilities of a neutral pattern in coming months looking strong. However, it was noted a return of El Nino is possible in the winter months.

• Thursday was a hot and humid day across much of the region, and Foster was asked about the prospects of other such heat outbursts in the coming weeks.

“Looking at the outlook, it certainly suggests that we can expect to see a transition (to cooler weather) later in the month, and that would seemingly reduce the likelihood of (another heatwave),” he said. “It’s a different kind of mode of circulation.”

But he cautioned, “We’ve got a long way to go yet this summer.”

———

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held its weekly update via a media conference call Thursday. Key points were:

• Releases at Gavins Point Dam will remain at 70,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) into August, while releases at Fort Randall Dam near Pickstown are expected to be raised from 63,000 cfs to 65,000 cfs in the next week.

• As of July 15, the total runoff on the Missouri River basin above Sioux City, Iowa, was at 42.2 million acre feet (maf), which already exceeds the runoff for all of 2018. The forecast for 2019 in total is at 52.4 maf, which make this the second biggest runoff year in 121 years of record-keeping. The record was set in 2011.

• Corps officials said repair work on levees below Sioux City is progressing, and the cost so far is at $123 million. However, it was pointed out that the peak hurricane season is looming in late August and early September, which means any recovery efforts there will be “competing for the same resources” needed to fund Missouri River repairs.

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