OMAHA (DTN) -- Forget an early start to planting in the eastern Midwest. If a turn to January-type temperatures throughout March didn't get the message across, a snowstorm that dumped almost a foot in a swath across central Illinois and central Indiana the weekend of March 23-24 did the trick.
"Early spring is long gone," said consulting agronomist Michael Cordonnier from Hinsdale, Ill. "Also, right now I give a 50-50 chance for normal planting."
Eastern Corn Belt (east of the Mississippi River) conditions are notably different than a year ago. Call it a polar opposite if you wish. That's appropriate because of the influence of Arctic-region high pressure shoving the (usual) polar jet stream south and east right over the Eastern Corn Belt.
"You've clearly got the entire Corn Belt on the cold side," said DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino. "That's the No. 1 feature with this pattern. Number 2 is precipitation, and the southern and Eastern Corn Belt is the general area where we have seen persistently wetter conditions."
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The wetter trend in the Eastern Corn Belt is markedly different from the Western Corn Belt. In the states east of the Mississippi River, northwestern Wisconsin is the only area with drought, according to the March 19 U.S. Drought Monitor map. The entire region had at least "moderate drought" in effect at the end of September 2012.
This improvement in soil moisture brings on more confidence about how crops will fare this season. "Illinois east -- I'm not concerned (about moisture)," Cordonnier said. "They improved in the fall and winter, and now got some heavy snow. Recharge (soil moisture) is pretty darned good."
Such a change has Cordonnier feeling better about how U.S. corn yields will turn out in 2013. "I'm more optimistic today than I was three months ago," he said. "In January, I estimated corn yields at about 153 bushels an acre for this season. I'm a little more optimistic about that now."
However, the prospect of delayed planting now takes on a stronger image that could bother the commodity trade for much of the season.
"A late-pollinating corn crop, combined with warmer-than-normal summer temperatures, could lead to similar crop problems as seen in 2010 and 2011," said DTN Senior Analyst Darin Newsom. "Those years, we saw a sharp decrease in yield tied to higher-than-normal overnight temperatures. If that happens again this year, then the long-term demand market will likely come to an end, because the demand-driven market requires at least stable supplies."
USDA researchers also note the importance of corn planting at least by mid-May. During the 2013 Ag Outlook Forum, Paul Westcott of the Economic Research Service summarized a crop weather research study with this observation: "Corn plantings by mid-May are important for yield potential because that allows more of the critical stages of crop development, particularly pollination, to occur earlier, before the most severe heat of the summer."
This finding adds a bit of urgency to the Eastern Corn Belt weather pattern for early April. The planting clock is starting to tick louder.
"I'm not concerned too much at this point, but if the pattern doesn't change by the end of the first week after Easter, then we're probably going to have some problems," Cordonnier said.
Bryce Anderson can be reached at email@example.com