Ag Weather Forum

Big Delays in Delta Floods

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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Flooding along Interstate 20 in north-central Louisiana is just one example of the effects of record heavy rain in the March 9-11 time frame. (Louisiana Homeland Security photo)

During my weather outlook presentation at Commodity Classic on Saturday, March 5, I discussed the potential for very heavy rain in the Mississippi Delta during the upcoming seven to ten-day period, and illustrated that with a NOAA forecast rainfall graphic map. It showed the potential for 10 inches of rain in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and eastern Texas. The map drew an audible sigh from the audience.

You know what happened. The forecast verified -- and then some. Rainfall in the Delta for the March 9-11 time frame had maximum amounts of not 10 inches, but more than 20 inches. Flooding is widespread, many roadways were closed, schools were closed, numerous high-water rescues had to be performed, and homes and businesses were evacuated. That's just the "people" side of things.

Agriculturally, there is a huge blow to crop and livestock production. Cattle producers likely had some death loss from the flooding. Also, many pastures are flooded and unusable for the time being. (The social media request has been made of "any pasture in Texas available, let me know.")

Now to the grain situation. When I posed the question of how long the flooding would keep growers out of the field, I was given the date of April 25 as a new re-start date. That is six-and-a-half, almost seven weeks' delay from the time of the downpour around March 10 -- basically a month and a half -- until Delta growers can get busy again. In the interest of acknowledging that not all locations in the region had the heaviest rains, let's say a month overall of delayed fieldwork. Still, that is a lot of time to be backlogged on planting. There is also loss potential for the region's soft red winter wheat crop, and that possibility extends into the Ohio Valley as well.

Back to the prospect of delayed planting: Regarding that lag in planting, there are a number of implications for the 2016 harvest. The soft wheat crop may be sub-par because of waterlogged acreage. Later-starting corn harvest means that southern U.S. corn is not around to supplement the final round of old-crop supplies, which could, maybe, possibly, bring on a stronger basis in the Midwest in August-early September. And, finally, corn production in total may be less than expected because of summertime heat affecting the output of a crop pollinating a month later than average, and being more susceptible to hotter temperatures.

And, on that count, summertime 2016 Delta conditions point to above-normal temperatures, along with below-normal precipitation. (In short, hotter and drier than the last couple years.) These conditions would be unfavorable for crops planted late; but it's looking more and more as if Delta corn pollination will be end of June-early July at the earliest, with soybean flowering, pod set, and pod fill going on in July and August. That's all the same time frame as the Midwest.

Now comes the "What if?" USDA researchers, in comparing the current slowly-declining El Nino to similar events in the late 1990, early 1980s and early 1970s, found that the summer features above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation in the Delta. Warm and dry. That's the pattern that the later-planted crops -- due to flooding -- may well be dealing with this year. And that scenario does not go along with above-trendline yields.

The heavy rains of spring 2016 have caused many complications -- local, regional, national, and possibly international -- when it comes to supply and availability. Hurdles to crop output this year in the U.S. appear to have already started.


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