Farm Progress

Warmer, drier winter raises concern over lingering drought impact on Northeast’s 2017 growing season.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

March 10, 2017

3 Min Read
CRACKED AGAIN? Massachusetts, Vermont and maybe other Northeast states may experience a “hangover” of last year’s drought conditions.

Days and days of clear winter skies, much warmer-than-normal winter temperatures and scant snowpack accumulation do not bode well for the coming Northeast growing season – especially with drought conditions impacting parts of the region for nearly two years. That’s the bottom-line summary of data from the U.S. Drought Monitor as of early March.

The fast-moving weather tracks of late-February and early-March systems left the Northeast and much of the Mid-Atlantic coast drier than normal. They did little to replenish subsoil and water tables drawn down over the last year. That’s been the pattern, particularly in New England, for the last two years.


DRY CONDITIONS HANG ON: The Feb. 28 Drought Monitor map confirms that Northeast dry weather conditions are persisting.

But will that drought pattern continue to hang over the Northeast this year? Only time will tell. Just keep in mind that increased solar radiation due to clear skies and above-normal temperatures contributes to greater evaporation.

Extremes still rule
Early March’s Drought Monitor report noted that drought ratings were reduced at many Northeast locations due to recent precipitation. “But much warmer-than-normal temperatures rapidly melted a significant amount of New England snowpack. Snow melting this fast pretty much just ran off into the rivers and streams as opposed to slowly entering the ground to recharge the groundwater.”

Many areas still face significant deficits built up over the last 12 months. That’s immediately critical for pastures remaining in poor condition.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 90-day outlook for the Northeast is for above-normal temperatures through May. NOAA is flipping the coin — a 50-50 chance — of higher or lower precipitation. Plan accordingly.

For the latest drought data, click on here.


Act now to mitigate your crop drought risks

Here are six tips from a number of sources on minimizing dry weather crop risks — and maximizing performance potential:

• Your first move should be signing up for crop insurance or making any necessary insurance changes. That deadline is March 15 for corn, soybeans and other spring-planted crops.

• Consider planting at least some acreage to drought-tolerant corn hybrids. They generally handle dry weather stress better, suggests Brandon Wardyn, DuPont Pioneer corn breeder.

• Weigh reducing corn populations to reduce plant moisture stress on more drought-susceptible soils. If nothing else, it may save on seed costs.

• Think about trying some shorter-season corn hybrids, and plant them early to spread out the pollination window.

• Consider planting soybeans; yes, even in New England. New, short-season varieties perform well in northern soils, and are a good “fit” for farm-grown dairy rations.

• Factor in climate change, and move up your early-planting dates for corn and soybeans. If you’re on the latitude of central Pennsylvania and southward, think March 15 to March 31 instead of May 16 to May 31 for soybeans. Beck’s Practical Farm Research program has found that late-March soybean plantings, over a 12-year average, outyielded late May plantings.

The best advice is saved for last: Talk with the smartest crop consultant you know about reducing your crop risks. Good luck!

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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