There's no question about it -- February has been one warm month. We've had storms that typically don't show up until May. There's little to no frost in the ground east of the Rockies. And, yes, word of corn planting in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois got passed around your favorite social media circles during this past weekend.
The warmth was definitely a -- get ready for it -- hot -- topic at last week's National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky. A major impression was "How nice is it that we don't have an ice storm to slog through?" -- because we've had those in the fairly recent past. But, close on the heels of the "isn't it great?" remarks came the somewhat-concerned query of "does that mean this year will be like 2012?"
Such a question is very understandable. 2012 featured a big, big warming trend from late winter through mid-spring. Some (or many) Midwest producers started planting in March -- maybe not the wisest move in terms of management, but one that makes for a great historical footnote. ("I remember planting corn in March of '12.") We, of course, know what happened that year; row crop yields suffered and prices soared. Now, jump ahead to this year, 2017, with sharp and record-breaking warming in farm country, and ambitious growers getting in gear, and the comparison question is not far from the top of the list.
But, even with what we've seen so far, the situations for the atmosphere and soil moisture are much different -- and more promising -- than five years ago. To begin with, the atmosphere is exhibiting some strong El Nino-related tendencies, and almost every long-term Pacific Ocean temperature forecast calls for El Nino to be in effect during this coming summer. Five years ago, in 2012, the effects of a strong La Nina event were in effect well into late spring -- and helped set the stage for the drought and heat that hurt production. And, ahead of spring, drought has a much smaller presence than in 2012. Again -- five years ago, much of the western Corn Belt had Level 2 (Severe) Drought already in effect, and the situation only worsened as the season continued. That's not the case this year. If anything, there's borderline too much moisture in the soil profile in northern Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.
So, at this point in the year, even with the early start to planting in the southern Corn Belt, conditions -- and forecasts -- do not suggest a re-visiting of the harsh season of 2012.
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