Approaching the 2019 planting season, the phrase that keeps coming up is “crunch time.” I’ll bet that every sports fan has mentioned this phrase at one point or another. The final seconds of the fourth quarter; the last at-bat; the back nine. These instances immediately get hard-coded into our memory banks.
That’s the way the 2019 spring is shaping up, too, and for growers in many areas. From all the way north (Minnesota, North Dakota) to all the way south (Mississippi), and from west (central Kansas) to east (Ohio and Pennsylvania), there are complications from the wet and cold harvest in fall 2018 that are stacking up the workload big-time ahead of this spring season.
So, what’s ahead? Following a winter that was marked by some very cold outbreaks, with all-time low temperatures in many areas, spring has a varied look to it. In the world view, the weak El Niño Pacific Ocean warm-water event will give way to neutral conditions during the season. With the more neutral Pacific trend, indications are that temperatures will be still cool in March but will then show a rebound in April and May. Precipitation looks to be below normal east of the Mississippi River, with heavier totals and above normal west of the Mississippi. So, that certainly offers a mixed scenario; the suggestion is that eastern crop areas have a better chance for fieldwork and planting progress earlier in the season than areas farther west.
An important feature to keep in mind is that, in general, there is no drought east of the Rocky Mountains as we go into the 2019 crop year. That feature has both positive and negative implications. On the plus side, soil moisture is certainly adequate for seed germination and early growth. On the minus side, it won’t take much precipitation to turn the ground wet and slow down progress. And, following the slow and late harvest of 2018, there’s plenty of work to get done even before planting. So, yes, it’s not out of the question to nickname this upcoming stretch of time “Crunch Time.”
Now that the stage is set for planting in the spring season, here is the forecast detail for our major crop areas:
A more favorable scenario is indicated for spring 2019 than in the last couple of years. In 2018, a very warm month of March was followed by a very cold month of April, which slowed planting significantly. This year, the pattern is reversed. Forecast indications are that March will be cool--no early start to fieldwork. But, the pattern turns warmer in April and May, which suggests that planting will have a good chance of getting done in a timely manner. Precipitation is variable; but, the warmer mid- to late-spring temperatures are key to planting prospects.
Spring begins cool and dry, but then turns warm and wet, with above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. Planting progress could be slowed by these conditions, possibly forcing some changes in the crop mix.
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Variable conditions are indicated for this spring season. The entire region has a cool and drier pattern early, as well as below-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation. As the season moves on, temperatures take on a warmer tone, looking to be above normal. Precipitation prospects have a notably mixed prospect. The northern portion of the region--Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina--looks to be in line for normal to below-normal amounts, while farther south--Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina--appears to be on track for above-normal precipitation with the implication of some disruption in planting progress.
MID-ATLANTIC AND NORTHEAST
A cool start, with below-normal temperatures, is accompanied by below-normal precipitation. The balance of spring, April and May, looks to be warmer and drier, with above-normal temperatures and near- to below-normal precipitation. This is promising for fieldwork and planting following a very wet pattern during last fall, with significant harvest disruption.
As with the Midwest, a key feature for the region is the temperature trend. Early-spring indications are cool, with below-normal conditions. But, mid to late spring has a warmer trend. Precipitation forecasts are variable: near to above normal in eastern areas and near normal west. This pattern will be important because there is plenty to do just to prepare fields for planting, let alone take care of planting itself.
CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN PLAINS
Central and Southern Plains temperatures have a consistent upward trend: below normal in March; near to above normal in April; and above normal in May. Precipitation prospects are variable during March and April, and generally above normal in May. Indications are that spring fieldwork and planting will have adequate to favorable conditions. Winter wheat in its crop-producing stages will also benefit from this trend.
Spring starts out cool, with below-normal temperatures followed by a more normal to above-normal trend through the balance of the season. Precipitation indications are for near- to above-normal amounts. The trend to near- to above-normal precipitation will be key to improving the streamflow in the Colorado River basin. Implications from the forecast are that there will be some improvement in the basin volume. However, long-term drought is still going to be a feature.
A mainly cool temperature trend is in store for the Far West during spring 2019. Precipitation also has indications of being near to above normal. El Niño may be fading, but, it still has the potential to affect this region’s spring pattern.
A notable change in temperatures through the season--below normal in March and April changing to above normal in May--is indicated for the Northwest. Precipitation is variable: near to below normal in March and May, near to above normal in April. Some long-term drought easing is indicated, but, widespread drought ending appears to be unlikely.
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