Ag Weather Forum

Delta and Eastern Corn Belt Wetness Lead to Potential Spring Fieldwork Delays

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Soil moisture analysis from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite program shows areas of wet fields in the Eastern Midwest and widespread wet conditions in the Delta going into early April. (NASA graphic)

Wet fields and the potential for delayed spring fieldwork are prominent features in the Eastern Midwest and Delta as we start April. These conditions show up significantly in analysis done by the joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, known as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On, identified by the acronym GRACE-FO. The project uses twin satellites to track Earth's water movement to monitor changes in underground water storage, the amount of water in large lakes and rivers, soil moisture, ice sheets and glaciers, and sea level caused by the addition of water to the ocean.

GRACE-FO surface soil moisture analysis, as of March 28, shows some pockets of the Eastern Midwest with very wet conditions at over the 90th percentile. Those wet areas are in eastern Wisconsin, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, south-central Illinois, eastern Indiana and the Ohio Valley. Farther south, wet conditions in the 75-90 plus percentile cover virtually the entire Delta along with much of the Mid-South.

Ground-level commentary supports the satellite calculations. State crop weather reports at the end of March highlighted the following details for adequate-to-surplus totals on topsoil moisture in the Eastern Midwest: Illinois 91%; Indiana 98%; Ohio 99%; Michigan 98%; Missouri 89%. In the Delta, adequate to surplus soil moisture totals were Arkansas 96%; Tennessee 96%; Mississippi 96%; Louisiana 86%. Subsoil moisture in general shows lofty totals as well, ranging from 81% to 98% adequate to surplus.

Typically, abundant soil moisture is looked upon as favorable for crop production. However, the totals for adequate to surplus on soil moisture in the eastern and southern U.S. crop areas strongly imply that saturation and muddy conditions may delay the start of planting.

The forecast through at least the next seven days is also concerning in this regard, with mainly below-normal temperatures and moderate to locally heavy rainfall totals of one-half to 2 inches in the Eastern Midwest and the Delta. The presence of La Nina in the Pacific Ocean gives further backing for concern about a slow start to fieldwork. La Nina in 2011 was also in effect when low temperatures, heavy rain and flooding caused some areas of the Eastern Midwest to remain unplanted until early June. A re-visiting of that delayed planting scenario would possibly be a nerve-jangler in the commodity trade, given the uncertainty which already surrounds the world economy in Spring 2022.

Bryce Anderson can be reached at

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