There are lots of questions about how the 2016 U.S. growing season will shape up. It seems like those inquiries are more numerous this year. Maybe it's just my perception or a memory glitch--but my impression is that the interest in what will happen for U.S. crop weather in 2016 has more urgency to it than in the past. It also seems like there is an increased number of these inquiries that begin with "With this El Nino fading..." and then there's more that is said. The weather and climate community and media have done a good job in raising awareness of this El Nino!
We are still a long ways out from the heart of the growing season. However, that does not forestall the questions about what's ahead. It also does not mean that we don't have any indication of what will happen. We do, and those trends are highlighted here.
During an El Nino update webinar on Thursday, January 21, 2016, my colleague Jeff Johnson, chief science officer for our parent company Schneider Electric, showed a couple maps indicating the temperature and precipitation trends in years when El Nino had a similar trend to what appears to be going on right now. Jeff looked at the years of 1995 and 1998--two other years when a moderate to strong El Nino showed steady weakening during the spring and summer after the El Nino event reached its peak. And, in those two years, the temperature trend for June through August was generally above normal for the entire Midwest, southeastern Plains, Delta, and Southeast. The remainder of the Plains had widely varying temperatures. Precipitation was highly segmented: Midwest amounts were wet in the south, southeast and northwest, and near to below normal elsewhere. Plains conditions were actually above normal in the north and west, and below to much below normal in the south. The Deep South and most of the Southeast were well below normal as well.
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In terms of crop production, those two years of 1995 and 1998 were almost complete opposites. 1995 production was notably lower than 1994, which featured U.S. corn production hitting the 10-Billion bushel mark for the first time. 1995 was well below that at 7.37-Billion bushels--a 27 percent drop from 1994. Soybean output in '95 was also about 15 percent lower than '94 at 2.15 Billion bushels. On the other hand, 1998's corn production was actually six percent HIGHER than 1997 at 9.76 Billion bushels, and the 1998 soybean crop was a record for the time at 2.76 Billion bushels.
What does that say about how this year might fare? After all, production in 2015 was very good considering the wet-weather challenges that much of the southern and eastern Corn Belt had to deal with. At this point, my view is that the long-term trendline yields of around 165 bushels per acre for corn, and around 45-46 bushels an acre for soybeans, are decent numbers to think about in terms of 2016 crop weather impact on yields. In other words, a new record is stretching things a bit with the prospect of summer heat, especially during the fill periods for crops. But, on the other hand, with no sign of large-scale drought in the central part of the country, it's hard to put a scenario together at this point in the year which features a big drawdown in yields.
165 bu/A corn and 45 bu/A soybean national yields--that's the way things look at this point.
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