OMAHA (DTN) -- Thousands of acres of Midwest farmland are stuck in the mud as midsummer approaches, thanks to a stagnant upper-atmosphere pattern over North America.
"We have seen a pattern featuring a blocking ridge (high pressure) over Alaska and far western Canada; a trough (low pressure) over central Canada; and another blocking ridge over Greenland in the northern jet stream through most of this season so far," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino. "And the southern branch of the jet stream features a trough in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a ridge over the western U.S., and another trough over the central and eastern U.S. There's also been subtropical high pressure over the southwestern U.S. The result is the frequent rain episodes that have focused their formation over the south and east Corn Belt."
The rains, helped out by an early tropical-season storm known as Bill, have done heavy-duty damage to all crops in the southern and eastern Midwest. A huge chunk of the Midwest (large portions of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio) was hit by rainfall exceeding 10 inches just during June.
Corn, which had a mostly favorable scenario for planting and early development, is now worse off than a year ago, according to both USDA weekly crop ratings and the DTN Crop Condition Index. As of Sunday, June 28, the DTN National Corn Index, at 164 points, was down 8 points from the previous week and is a full 20 points below the same week last year. "As expected, the worst conditions are in states where flooding has been a problem recently," said DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom. "Indiana (corn) was rated at 21% poor to very poor, and Missouri was at 17% poor to very poor."
Behind this outpouring of the heavens is a combination of last winter's pattern, with an extra boost brought in from El Nino. "We are seeing a weather pattern evolving that is quite similar to the persistent patterns of the mid and late winter into early spring ... a strong trough across central and east-central Canada while a strong ridge develops across the western U.S. poking northward into southwest Canada," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Doug Webster. The old winter 2015 pattern effectively set the storm track over the eastern Midwest.
Now comes El Nino. As of late-June, equator-region waters in the Pacific Ocean approached differences from average as great as plus 3 degrees Celsius, values which have not been around since a very strong El Nino of 1997-98. The impact of El Nino-fueled southern-branch jet-stream action brings further impetus for storm development. Add in the ill-timed development of Tropical Storm Bill, and a corn crop that had very bright promise has had some bushels skimmed off. One estimate pegs Indiana row-crop loss already at $300 million.
The grain market has taken notice. December 2015 corn futures staged a 40-cent-plus rally during the week of June 21. "New-crop corn and soybean prices are showing new bullish behavior ... thanks largely to concerns of excess moisture," said DTN Analyst Todd Hultman.
The recent move higher in corn is a fundamental supportive item to a long-term technical indicator from harvest 2014, Newsom said. "The general consensus was that El Nino was going to provide near-ideal growing conditions this spring/summer, something the market, through futures spreads, never agreed with," Newsom said.
Forecasts for July maintain generally cool conditions with normal to above-normal precipitation. On the surface, that combination sounds favorable for good corn performance. But, the pulverizing rains of June in the Eastern Corn Belt have put a different spin on this prospect.
"There is no clear evidence that we're going to get GDDs (growing degree days)," said Nebraska state climatologist Al Dutcher. "Also -- at this point there are no comparisons to 1993. But, a lesson from 1993 is that too much rain is as bad as drought, with nitrogen loss with a sharp drop-off from excessive moisture."
Dutcher also said chances are better for the current trend of above-normal rainfall in the Corn Belt -- and, throughout much of the central U.S. -- to remain in effect.
"There is more opportunity for this pattern to continue than revert to hot and dry," Dutcher said.
Bryce Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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