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Corn+Soybean Digest

2008: Drought Likely?

The year ahead shows many signs of suffering from a drought similar to the drought of 1988. So says Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension climatologist and professor of ag meteorology.

“In 50 years of records, only one of them looks like the weather pattern that we are in, and that is much like 1987 into early 1988,” he says of today's La Niña weather pattern, and the Southern Oscillation Index.

Cold water is off the South American coast, indicating a typical La Niña. “Half of the weather scientists say it may go away as quickly as it came, which would mean it will leave by May,” Taylor says. “Stay tuned until the last day of April,” when one forecast or the other will play out.

There is always the chance, too, that leaving by May could tear up South America and not the U.S. Corn Belt, he adds.

If we remain in a La Niña, an ISU study on managing weather and crop risk indicates that crop growers should forward sell only 8% of their crop before planting, and face a 70% chance of below-trendline yields.

The study was conducted jointly by Taylor and ISU Ag Economist Bob Wisner.

What can growers do to prepare for drought growing conditions? “Establish strong root systems on your crop and protect it from insect and weed pressure,” Taylor says. “If you are inclined to buy insurance, buy it.”

Some good news, he adds, is that 80% of Corn Belt farmland has normal subsoil moisture. “However, that was also true in 1988,” Taylor says.

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