Ag Weather Forum

Good Rainfall Increasing Soil Moisture Prior to Spring Planting

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
Rainfall during the week leading up to April 2 has been heavy across many areas of the Corn Belt and some other spots as well. Areas in yellow are generally over an inch of liquid equivalent. (DTN graphic)

Soils were incredibly dry going into winter. Widespread drought covered much of the country east of the Rockies before the active El Nino storm track showed up and brought a lot of areas some much-needed precipitation over the winter. This spring, that active storm track has continued and during the last week, we have started to see some real gains in the subsoil moisture profiles according to a lot of measurements.

The rain that came through this past weekend and early this week is certainly helping as well. As depicted in the attached image, amounts over 1 inch have been widespread through most of the Midwest and parts of the West, Plains, and Southeast have seen similar amounts as well. Areas in red are over 2 inches, which can also be found. Though some minor ponding and flooding have occurred, soils have been dry enough to soak in the moisture for the most part.

Subsoil moisture has been an issue for the last few years, thanks to more continuous drought from La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean -- where sea-surface temperatures have been below normal. El Nino has tried to change that, but it's been a struggle to get into the deep subsoil profile in many areas. With El Nino winding down and La Nina forecast to return this summer, the concern about another hot and dry summer is on the minds of a lot of folks that depend upon weather, especially farmers and ranchers. So, getting this moisture into the soil is an overall benefit.

But there may be a downside risk if this pattern looks to continue through April, and by all accounts it is shaping up to continue to be active this month. That risk would be to delay spring planting. With the first USDA Crop Progress Report out on Monday,…, the focus is turning to planting conditions. In truth, there are very few areas of the country that have seen too much rainfall and where soil moisture is too wet for fieldwork and planting. Those areas are along the Gulf Coast and the East Coast, where the storm track has been especially active during the winter and spring. A continued active pattern may lead to some delays in these areas.

But for the rest of the country, there are very few pockets where soil moisture would be considered too wet to get going. Those soils are taking in that precipitation and storing it well and many areas are a long way away from saturation. With no significant snowpack to melt off outside of any recent snows, northern areas are unlikely to have flooding issues this spring as well.

In other words, while there are concerns about planting being delayed this spring, the concerns are probably a bit unfounded. The active pattern may lead to some precipitation delays, but significant setbacks due to waterlogged soils are unlikely to occur. Instead, the barrage of storm systems is more likely to fill up some of the dry soils out there that still exist, and set up the early growth of the coming crop with good soil moisture as we head to a potential hot and dry summer thanks to that building La Nina in the Pacific.

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John Baranick