Ag Weather Forum

Mired in Concern Over Wet Fields

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Attendance was good, and producer anxiety was high, when the subject of too much moisture was brought up during DTN market and weather seminars at the 2020 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky. (DTN photo by Joel Reichenberger)

The National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky is a very useful event to find out what's going on ahead of the upcoming crop year over a wide geographic area. The 2020 show was no exception.

Todd Hultman and I discussed market and weather details and outlooks to a robust attendance at DTN seminars. The one-hour program flew by and later conversation elicited more detail from producers. After the first two days of programs, I heard personal detail on what was going on from producers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Ontario in Canada.

Everyone had a story to tell about how the wet last year affected each one's individual area and perspective on the upcoming 2020 crop year. To no surprise, stories about large numbers of acreage enrolled in prevented planting abounded. There were also details of how the late-planted year, plus ill-timed snow last fall, caused harvest issues and grain loss in both quantity and quality. The relatively warm winter (at least until February came) has drain tiles running, but soil moisture is still very high, with soils saturated. Rain in the eastern Midwest and Delta during this week of the farm show just served to enhance the frayed nerves.

Looking ahead to spring, there are some indications that the weather pattern will offer some improvement for portions of the central United States. There are three sectors that seem to be shaping up when it comes to the spring trend. Following is a very general description of those areas in mid-February.

NORTHERN -- Using U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City, Iowa to Chicago and north: This sector has the heaviest snow cover and the most consistent low temperatures during this latter third of the meteorological winter season. This is also the sector where 2019 was a record-wet year; thus, soils are saturated. In addition, an active northwestern U.S. storm track continues to send rain and snow across this sector. A threat of renewed flooding is high, and producers at the National Farm Machinery Show said that they expect substantial prevented planting claims to be filed again. "They won't be as slow to do it (filing prevented planting) this year," one producer said. In addition, of course, there are still many, many acres of corn that have yet to be harvested.

EASTERN AND SOUTHERN SECTOR -- East of Interstate 55 from Chicago to St. Louis and southeast: Wet conditions have a high probability of delaying fieldwork and planting this year. The temperature pattern does not look like it is going to be as consistently cold in 2020 as in 2019, which offers some benefit, but wet soils and a high risk of flooding bring thoughts of slow progress.

WESTERN SECTOR -- West of Interstate 55 and south of U.S. Highway 20: This sector is drier than a year ago. Producers were able to finish harvest in reasonable time and, in some operations, apply fall fertilizer ahead of the 2020 crop year. There is a big caveat, however -- flood damage in river basins from 2019 is still evident, with many acres still unworkable for 2020.

In general, there is a lot of tension ahead of the 2020 growing season. In many areas, the hope will be that, somehow, precipitation can be below normal. Otherwise, the specter of sodden peat-like ground will again dominate the scene.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

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