Back
March 9, 2011

Early U.S. Spring Weather Problematic

As we move into the month of March, there are two areas of concern early in the U.S. growing season. The first area of concern is the dry conditions across the southwestern U.S. and the second is the heavy snowpack and lingering winter-like conditions across the far northern U.S.

Dry conditions in the southwestern U.S. - Currently, it is quite dry across most of Texas, western Oklahoma, southwest Kansas, and southeast Colorado. The dryness had also extended across much of the Gulf Coast until this past weekend when strong storms moved across the region. The first crop that could be affected by continued dry conditions is the hard red winter wheat crop in the southern High Plains. The crop is generally in poor condition right now and continued dry weather could make the situation even worse.

When talking about wheat, we always need to be careful about writing off the crop too quickly. Wheat is a grass, and as such, it has "nine lives". Wheat can be in poor condition coming out of dormancy, but if weather conditions improve going into spring, the plants can send out new tillers and the crop can recuperate somewhat. Having said that, the hard red wheat crop has some real challenges ahead and the most likely scenario would probably be disappointing yields.

The second crop that could be affected is the soft red winter wheat in the South and the Mid-South. Conditions were generally dry until this past weekend and a return of dryer than normal conditions could negatively impact that crop as well.

For both the hard red and the soft red wheat crops, it is possible that some of the poorest wheat might actually be plowed up and put into row crops this spring. In the southern High Plains, some of these acres might go to cotton, sorghum, or even corn if irrigation is available. In the South and the Mid-South, it might go to cotton, corn, or soybeans depending on the location.

Snowpack and winter-like conditions in the northern U.S. - The area of concern in the northern Midwest includes North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The snowpack is very deep in this region and it doesn't look like there will be any significant melting any time soon. When the snow does melt, there will enviably be concerns about flooding especially along the Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota. Continued winter-like conditions could delay the melting and certainly impact field work and early spring planting.

The first crops that could be affected by continued cold and wet conditions would be the spring wheat and other small grains such as oats, barley, and rye. These are usually the first grain crops planted in the upper Midwest. The next grain crop planted is corn and 2.05 million acres of corn were planted in North Dakota in 2010 and 4.55 million acres of corn were planted in South Dakota in 2010. The growing season is very short in the upper Midwest and the farmers want to plant their corn as early as possible to maximize the yield potential of the crop. Any delays in corn planting could significantly impact the yield potential of the crop.

Speaking of flooding, heavy rains across the central and eastern Corn Belt have raised concerns about potential flooding along the Mississippi River. The river is already above flood stage at Cape Girardeau and the weekend rains could aggravate the situation. We traveled along the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois over the weekend and the river is high, but still within its banks. That could all change of course when the heavy snowpack across Minnesota and Wisconsin starts to melt and the spring rains start to fall. The soils across the Midwest are saturated and will be unable to absorb much moisture for the next few weeks. As a result, heavy spring rains could result in excessive runoff and localized flooding.