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Articles from 2012 In October

Telling Your Story
GMO Labeling Proposal Grabs Attention

GMO Labeling Proposal Grabs Attention

The talk surrounding California's Proposition 37 – a proposal to label food products that include genetically modified material - is ramping up on a daily basis. Californians will vote on the measure Nov. 6.

On October 31, a debate between two bloggers with opposing views on Prop 37 was held at BlogHer.  The arguments summarize the two sides fairly well. There is an opportunity to comment at the end.  I encourage you to add your voice to this conversation. If nothing else, read the comments and see what people are actually saying. 

Blogosphere reveals lots of GMO misinformation but there's still time to set the record straight

One thing that I've noticed is that the arguments comingle biotech technology with the company that produced it.  Most of the time when I ask people where their hatred is directed, the answer seems to be that the company and the science are one in the same.

Another argument that is common is that the obesity rate is up since biotech seeds were released. The timeline since biotech seeds were released also corresponds to when the internet really got up and running. 

Most people seem to spend a lot more time than they'd like to admit sitting behind a screen. There are probably a whole host of other reasons as well. My point is, I'm not sure the increase in obesity rates can be attributed to only one factor.

You might want to see what some of the common concerns are about GMOs. Recently, NPR had a blog on five common myths associated with GMOs. 

The perceptions that the public has regarding what you plant are being formed whether you are involved or not. This conversation is going on around the country, and I encourage you to be part of the discussion. 

Restaurant Performance Dips in September Due to Softer Sales

Restaurant Performance Dips in September Due to Softer Sales

As a result of softer same-store sales and customer traffic levels, the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index declined in September. The RPI is a monthly composite index that tracks the health of, and outlook for, the U.S. restaurant industry.

The index stood at 100.4 in September, down 0.3% from August. Despite the decline, September represented the 11th consecutive month that the RPI stood above 100. That signifies continued expansion in the index of key industry indicators.

Same-store sales rose for the 16th consecutive month. Restaurant operators are somewhat more optimistic about sales growth.

"Although restaurant operators reported softer same-store sales and customer traffic levels in September, they are somewhat more bullish about sales growth in the months ahead," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. "Forty-five% of restaurant operators expect their sales to improve in the next six months, while only 11% expect weaker sales."

Bear in mind the survey data were collected before the magnitude of hurricane Sandy's impact became known.

The index will likely dip again for October. It may well also track lower for November as much of the U.S. east coast works to recover from hurricane Sandy. The storm clearly trimmed restaurant traffic. It likely also trimmed restaurant demand for meat. People who stayed away from restaurants during the storm likely will not eat out twice as much for a while afterwards. Demand lost during the storm is gone forever.

On the flip side, restaurants and consumers who lost food inventories due to power outages will need to restock. That will be good for meat movement. Impact on restaurant profits and consumer ability to spend is less clear.

Traffic down, investment up

While sales remained positive overall, restaurant operators reported a net decline in customer traffic levels in September. Thirty-six percent of restaurant operators reported higher customer traffic levels between September 2011 and September 2012, down from 47% who reported positive traffic in August. Meanwhile, 41% of operators reported lower customer traffic levels in September, up from 32% in August.

Despite the softer sales and traffic results, restaurant operators reported an uptick in capital spending activity. Forty-nine% of operators said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, up from 41% who reported similarly last month.

Optimism for improvement persists

The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators' six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 100.9 in September – up 0.2% from August. Although August marked the 13th consecutive month that the Expectations Index stood above 100, it remains below the stronger levels reached during the first half of 2012.

Restaurant operators are somewhat more optimistic that their sales levels will improve in the months ahead. Forty-five% of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up from 40% last month and the strongest level in three months. Meanwhile, only 11% of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, essentially unchanged from 12% last month.

In contrast to their generally positive outlook for sales, restaurant operators are more uncertain about the direction of the overall economy. Only 26% of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, down slightly from 29% last month. Meanwhile, 18% of operators said they expect economic conditions to worsen in the next six months, while 56% think conditions will stay about the same.

Restaurant operators' outlook for capital spending remained steady. Forty-four% of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, unchanged from last month.

Restaurant Performance Dips in September Due to Softer Sales

National Restaurant Association Restaurant Performance Index

Values Greater than 100 = Expansion; Values Less than 100 = Contraction

Soy Producers Offer Comments For EU Trade Negotiations

Soy Producers Offer Comments For EU Trade Negotiations

The American Soybean Association submitted comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative this week regarding a potential free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

In the comments submitted, ASA President Steve Wellman said soybean farmers have a vested interest in seeing barriers to transatlantic trade reduced.

Such barriers, like the EU's biotech labeling requirements and renewable energy standards, have had a significantly negative impact on soybean exports to the EU in recent years, with a 44% decline in the value of EU-bound exports between 1998 and 2011, and a 70% drop in export volume during the same period, Wellman's comments said.

ASA President Steve Wellman says trade is dependent on common U.S. - EU regulations.

"The EU has invoked the so-called Precautionary Principle, under which unsubstantiated concerns about the safety of biotech products to health and the environment are deemed sufficient to require labeling them," Wellman wrote. "Similarly, the EU's Renewable Energy Directive establishes arbitrary criteria for the production of soybeans and other commodities in order to meet sustainability requirements and be eligible as feedstocks for biofuels used in EU Member States."

Wellman said in combination with the EU's biotech labeling regulations, the RED will eliminate imports of U.S. soybeans, since soybean oil will not be used either as an ingredient in food products or as a feedstock for biodiesel production.

Discussing a potential free trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU, Wellman maintained the importance of agriculture to trade issues, saying, "Agriculture is too important as an export industry for the U.S. to not address it in any new FTA negotiations.  Moreover, as we have pointed out, U.S. soybean exports to the EU have been severely impacted by its biotech labeling and RED regulations during the last 13 years, and these issues must be addressed in any FTA negotiations."

Wellman was firm about EU barriers to trade and additional regulatory initiatives.

"To allow the EU to establish unsubstantiated process-based labeling requirements or to impose arbitrary environmental criteria on imports and on producers in countries from which they are imported will only invite additional EU regulatory initiatives in other sectors that could offset any positive benefits which an FTA might achieve in reducing domestic or export subsidies or tariffs."

For a full transcript of ASA's comments, please click here.

Rainfall Holds Off Iowa's 2012 Harvest Wrap-Up

Rainfall Holds Off Iowa's 2012 Harvest Wrap-Up

Rainfall this past week has kept Iowa farmers from finishing the 2012 corn and soybean harvest, although most farmers are done. The scattered showers improved the topsoil moisture situation but statewide Iowa's subsoil moisture situation is still rated 58% very short, 34% short, 8% adequate and zero percent surplus. That's according to the weekly statewide survey compiled on October 28 by the Iowa field office of USDA's National Ag Statistics Service, located in Des Moines.

ALMOST DONE: Although much more rainfall is needed, Iowa did receive some moisture last week. The rain slowed progress for farmers who still have to finish harvesting their 2012 crop. Iowa now stands at 95% of corn harvested, while 97% of the soybeans are in the bin.

"After the very hot, dry summer and drier than normal year we've had in 2012 we still need a lot of rainfall to recharge Iowa's subsoil moisture supply by May 2013 planting time," observes Greg Thessen, who directs the weekly Iowa crop conditions survey. It takes two inches of water for every foot of soil profile to get the soil back to as much as it can hold for plants. Corn plants sent roots down as deep as 9 to 10 feet to get moisture in the driest areas of the state this summer. That means some areas need 16 to 18 inches of precipitation to become fully recharged.

Chance of getting subsoil moisture fully recharged for 2013 crop is diminishing

As the calendar is moving into November and freeze-up of the soil will soon occur, time is running out this fall. It doesn't look like there's much chance of Iowa's subsoil getting fully recharged statewide before planting time next spring.

"The state received some much needed moisture last week, but that has slowed progress for farmers still needing to finish harvest," adds Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.  "Iowa now stands at 95% of corn harvested and 97% of soybeans, both of which are still ahead of average."

The complete weekly Iowa Crops & Weather report is available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship's website or on USDA's site. Here's a summary:

CROP REPORT: 95% of Iowa's corn crop has been harvested, 97% of soybeans

Weather conditions slowed harvest for most of the state for the week ending October 28 as Iowa experienced several cool, rainy days. A few farmers are waiting for fields to dry out enough so they can harvest their remaining acres according to the weekly survey by the Iowa field office of USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service. Farmers who have completed harvest are putting away their heavy machinery and working on cleanup projects.


There were 3.9 days suitable for fieldwork statewide during the past week. Topsoil moisture levels improved to 26% very short, 38% short, 35% adequate and 1% surplus. Subsoil moisture improved and is now rated 58% very short, 34% short, 8% adequate, and zero percent surplus.

Grain movement continues to slow, with 24% of the state seeing moderate to heavy grain movement from farm to elevator. As the harvest season nears completion, 99% of the state reported adequate or surplus off-farm storage capacity and 97% of the state reported adequate or surplus on-farm storage capacity. That's due to the drought-shortened crop size this year.

As harvest nears completion, grain storage capacity is adequate to surplus

As of October 28 in Iowa 95% of the corn crop has been harvested for grain or seed, still running one month ahead of normal. Last year at this time, 82% of Iowa's corn crop had been harvested. For soybeans, 97% of the state's 2012 soybean crop has been harvested as of October 28, two weeks ahead of normal.

Only 26% of Iowa's pasture and range land is rated in fair or better condition. Pasture and range condition is rated at 47% very poor, 27% poor, 20% fair, 6% good and zero percent excellent. Hay supplies are considered short across 42% of Iowa with 39% of the hay supply considered in good condition. Livestock conditions are generally good.

IOWA PRELIMINARY WEATHER SUMMARY—for week ended October 28, 2012

By Harry Hillaker, State Climatologist, Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship

The past week began with much above normal temperatures with frequent showers and thunderstorms. Daytime high temperatures from Monday (October 22) through Wednesday (October 24) ranged from around 60 degrees F over the far northwest to near 80 degrees in the extreme southeast. Showers and thunderstorms brought light to moderate rain to the southeast two-thirds of Iowa on Monday (October 22) morning. A second wave of showers brought light rain to much of the southeast one-half of the state on Tuesday (October 23) morning. Additional showers and thunderstorms on Wednesday morning brought light rain to about the eastern one-third of Iowa. 


Finally, an area of rain traversed all of the state from Wednesday (October 24) afternoon into Thursday (October 25) afternoon. Heaviest rains with this last system fell over west central and north central sections. The rain turned to snow in the far northwest early on Thursday and brought a brief accumulation to some areas. Much cooler and drier weather prevailed for the remainder of the week with daytime highs mostly in the 40s on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

October is the first month since April to have greater than normal total rainfall

Precipitation totals varied from 0.18 inch near Lester in Lyon County to 2.04 inches at Colwell in Floyd County. The statewide average precipitation was 0.93 inches while normal for the week is 0.56 inches. This pushed the October statewide average to 3.11 inches to make this the first month since April to bring a greater than normal total.

Temperature extremes for the week varied from a Wednesday afternoon high of 83 degrees at Keosauqua to morning lows of 17 degrees at Battle Creek on Saturday and at Belle Plaine and Elkader on Sunday. Temperatures for the week as a whole averaged from 2 to 4 degrees below normal over the far west to 3 to 4 degrees above normal over the central and southeast with a statewide average of 2.1 degrees above normal. Soil temperatures as of Sunday (October 28) cooled to the mid to upper 40s statewide and are expected to average near the same levels for the coming week.

The Buzz: History Favors Smaller Corn Crop

The Buzz: History Favors Smaller Corn Crop

With headlines full of news about Hurricane Sandy and the election, the upcoming Nov. 9 USDA report could get lost in the shuffle. But traders are already gearing up for the government’s next series of estimates, which could help yank the markets out of the October funk. Farm Futures Senior Editor Bryce Knorr talks over a range of issues for this report in this week’s edition of The Buzz.

Just click on the video link below to learn more about what this latest report means to your risk management plan.

NOT TO BE IGNORED: Nov. 9 USDA report won’t be the final word, but it could turn markets.

Senior Editor Bryce Knorr first joined Farm Futures Magazine in 1987. In addition to analyzing and writing about the commodity markets, he is a former futures introducing broker and is a registered Commodity Trading Advisor. He conducts Farm Futures exclusive surveys on acreage, production and management issues and is one of the analysts regularly contracted by business wire services before major USDA crop reports. Besides the Morning Call on he writes weekly reviews for corn, soybeans, and wheat that include selling price targets, charts and seasonal trends. His other weekly reviews on basis, energy, fertilizer and financial markets and feature price forecasts for key crop inputs. A journalist with 38 years of experience, he received the Master Writers Award from the American Agricultural Editors Association.

The Buzz is a weekly video feature where the Farm Futures team takes a more in-depth look at key topics impacting the markets. It is often updated on farm market report days as well.

Sandy Adds Insult To Drought Damaged Land, Livestock Operations

Sandy Adds Insult To Drought Damaged Land, Livestock Operations

USDA's Farm Service Agency on Wednesday released information to assist farmers and ranchers suffering from Hurricane Sandy's wrath, urging them to keep records of all losses. The USDA is also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy by deploying staff from USDA Rural Development, Forest Service, Food and Nutrition Service and Natural Resources and Conservation Service.

FSA: Keep Livestock Notes Handy

USDA reaches out to farmers, ranchers affected by the superstorm

Farm Service Agency Administrator Juan M. Garcia on Wednesday urged farmers and ranchers affected by Hurricane Sandy to keep thorough records of all losses, including livestock death losses, as well as expenses for such things as feed purchases and extraordinary costs because of lost supplies and or increased transportation costs.

FSA recommends that owners and producers record all pertinent information of natural disaster consequences, including:

• Documentation of the number and kind of livestock that have died, supplemented if possible by photographs or video records of ownership and losses;

• Dates of death supported by birth recordings or purchase receipts;

• Costs of transporting livestock to safer grounds or to move animals to new pastures;

• Feed purchases if supplies or grazing pastures are destroyed.

For companion animals, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has deployed animal care experts to provide pet-liaison services to FEMA in Philadelphia. APHIS Animal Care is coordinating with the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition and the National Alliance of State Animal and Agriculture Emergency Programs who are staging a distribution center at the State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, N.Y., with supplies for companion animals.

Crops and Land

APHIS deployed a plant pest expert to the Massachusetts State Emergency Operations Center to provide information and guidance on Asian Long Horned Beetle quarantines to FEMA's Incident Management Assistance Teams as they plan for debris removal.


FSA recommends that land owners or operators retain:

• Crop records, including seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records;

• Pictures of on-farm storage facilities that were destroyed by wind or flood waters; and

• Evidence of damaged farm land.

Producers with damaged farmland should contact their local FSA office. The Emergency Conservation Program may be able to assist producer who need to repair farmland or remove debris due to Hurricane Sandy. FSA currently has $15.5 million available for producers in counties that received a Major Disaster declaration pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Producers located in counties that have not received a Major Disaster declaration should visit their local FSA office for information on ECP if funding becomes available in the future.

Crops insured by federal crop insurance or by the Noninsured Disaster Assistance Program are covered when floodwaters have rendered them valueless. USDA encourages all farmers and ranchers to contact their crop insurance companies and local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Centers, as applicable, to report damages to crops or livestock loss. More information about federal crop insurance may be found at

Risk Management

USDA's Risk Management Agency reminds producers faced with questions on prevented planting, replant, or crop losses to contact their crop insurance agent for more information. Producers who need emergency credit due may receive assistance through the Emergency Loan Program if they need assistance recovering from production and physical losses due to natural disasters. Producers are eligible for these loans as soon as their county is declared a Presidential or Secretarial disaster county.

Rural Development

Rural Development staff is reaching out to all telecommunications, electric and water system borrowers in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to assess any damages and offer full and immediate assistance where necessary. RD is working with members of the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association to determine how to most effectively meet requests for assistance to help restore power and with the National Rural Water Association (through their state associations) and 38 Circuit Riders funded through an existing USDA contract, to help rural communities assess water system outages and damages.


Rural Development has also updated its list of available housing units suitable for emergency shelter and has provided this information to FEMA.

Food and Nutrition Service & Food Safety

USDA Food and Nutrition Service is offering food assistance to those in need in areas affected by a disaster. At present, affected states are assessing their needs and no formal requests for assistance have been received. However, FNS fully expects to receive requests from affected states as they complete their assessments and determine what response best meets the needs of their citizens. FNS will continue to work closely with the affected states to provide support and technical assistance as needed.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service is monitoring the regulated meat, poultry, and processed egg product industry to ensure FSIS' regulated products are safe for consumers. FSIS has published food safety messages for consumers.

Forest Service

USDA Forest Service wildfire suppression crews and incident management teams are being mobilized and sent to the East Coast to support state and local partners as they respond to Hurricane Sandy. Currently, six incident management teams and eleven wildfire suppression crews, a total of more than 250 personnel, are staged in or en route to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. in coordination with local emergency managers.

Producers with private forest land that was damaged should also visit their local FSA office for information on the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. EFRP provides assistance to landowners of private forest land to help carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster. Currently no funding is available, however, producers should visit their local FSA office for information if funding becomes available.

Additional resources to help farmers and ranchers handle damage from Hurricane Sandy may be found at

USDA says it will continue working with state and local officials, as well as federal partners, to make sure people have the necessary resources to recover from the storm.

To find the USDA Service Center nearest you, click here. Also visit the Hurricane Sandy USDA web page.


Study says organic no healthier than conventional

A new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that organic foods aren’t any safer or more nutritious for children than conventionally-produced foods.

 “Parents know it’s important for children to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains,” the study said. “But it’s less clear whether spending the extra money on organic foods will bring a significant benefit to their children’s health.”

 In other words, it simply doesn’t matter whether children eat organic or conventional food, as long as they maintain a healthy diet, noted Dr. Janet Silverman, one of the lead authors of the report.

Over the last 10 years, the image of U.S. agriculture industry has suffered much criticism from the rising organic movement, which contends that organic farming is a superior system of producing food.

The AAP study confirms once again that not only is conventional agriculture a safe, sustainable, responsible system for supplying the world with food, it is also the system by which all others are compared.

And how does organic stack up to conventional? According to the study, the higher cost of organic may actually hurt parental efforts to protect their children’s health.

“Many families have a limited food budget, and we do not want families to choose to consume smaller amounts of more expensive organic foods and thus reduce their overall intake of healthy foods like produce,” Silverstein explained.

The report is similar to a recently released Stanford study, conducted by Crystal Smith-Spangler, an instructor at Stanford, and others. She noted, “Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.”

The authors of the AAP study didn’t unequivocally endorse conventional agriculture, and I’m sure we’ll see the organic groups cherry pick some AAP observations.

An AAP press release on the study noted, “While organic foods have the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients as conventional foods, they also have lower pesticide levels, which may be significant for children. Organically raised animals are also less likely to be contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria because organic farming rules prohibit the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.”

The AAP also made the assumption that organically-produced food was somehow better for the environment and climate change.

 Despite this backtracking, the study could not escape its findings that in the long term, “there is currently no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.”

The AAP report, “Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages,” will be released at a news conference, Oct. 22 at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in New Orleans. A news release is available online at


Move agriculture to the big city and save the planet

The idea of buying farm produce locally has spawned a number of far out ideas over the years. But one I read recently – moving agriculture into abandoned big city buildings, and allow much of our nation’s farmland to return to its natural state to help ease global warming – well that just about took the cake.

The concept at the heart of the aforementioned idea, vertical farming, is really quite brilliant. In fact, several of these ventures are already operational. For example, inside a 12-story triangular building in Sweden, plants travel on special racks to optimize sunlight penetration and harvest. And in a former meat-packing plant in Chicago, veggies are grown on floating rafts. In another technique, plant roots are suspended in the air and painted with nutrients, eliminating the need for soil.

Vertical farming is touted as a way to supply produce to the citizens of a big city and eliminate the energy costs associated with shipping it from the countryside. Critics of vertical farming point out that any energy savings from not having to transport food into cities would most likely be more than offset by the higher energy cost of running the vertical farm.

The man considered the father of vertical farming, Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University, believes that skyscraper farming can overcome these problems with new technology. Once that is out of the way, Despommier believe vertical farming could eventually produce half of the world’s food.

That seems a bit ambitious. But he didn’t stop there.

 “A significant portion of farmland could be abandoned. Ecosystem functions would rapidly improve, and the rate of global warming would slow down,” Despommier said.

And so, in an ironic twist of fate, farming would move from the country to the city, sort of like the old television show Green Acres, only in reverse.

“Darlin’ I love you, but give me Park Avenue tomatoes.”

Of course, ideas like vertical farming, or organic farming for that matter, catch on because Americans, rightly or wrongly, want to believe there is a better way to produce the world’s food, fiber, fuel and feed.

That’s why it’s so much more difficult to convince people these days that conventional agriculture, although far from perfect, is the only time-proven, sustainable system in existence that continues to pay strong dividends for producers and consumers.

And it’s relatively simple – plant the seed in the soil, nurture and protect the crop, then harvest it. And of course, make sure you’re able to repeat the process indefinitely and consistently supply enough food for everybody.

It’s nice to think about a city farm stretching into the sky, whirling and humming and turning out produce for city folks like a giant, 12-story vending machine. But for me, nothing will ever replace the good old outdoors, a patch of dirt and the skills of the American farmer.


Photos: Old cotton trailers never die

Cotton trailers have not been used to haul cotton in years, ever since the invention of cotton module builders. However, they’re still around. They are used for a variety of uses, the most common are rolling, roadside billboards conveying a political message, advertising businesses or supporting political candidates. You can still find them in farm equipment yards used as trash receptacles for used containers. They are even used as animal pens. They once were used in cotton fields as overnight habitats for weeder geese (if you are old enough to remember weeder geese).

Here is a collection of cotton trailers (and one old manure spreader) along Highway 99 north of Fresno, Calif., and Highway 152 from 99 to Los Banos, Calif.

Take a picture of cotton trailers in your area and send them in to add to Western Farm Press growing collection. Just email to

Despite a now wavering El Nintildeo the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration was still predicting warmerthanaverage temperatures in much of Texas But itrsquos less of a sure thing than it was a month or so ago when a strong El Nintildeo was expected said the Texas state climatologist
<p> Despite a now wavering El Ni&ntilde;o, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration was still predicting warmer-than-average temperatures in much of Texas. But it&rsquo;s less of a sure thing than it was a month or so ago when a strong El Ni&ntilde;o was expected, said the Texas state climatologist. </p>

Climatologist: El Niño fizzles and winter might be ‘nothing special’

El Niño has fizzled, and you can forget the forecasts of a wetter, cooler Texas winter, said the state climatologist.

Though many agricultural producers may be disappointed in not having a wet winter to replenish soil-moisture levels, there’s some good news mixed with the bad, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.

“The closest thing to a sure bet is that this won’t be another La Niña winter,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But next year the odds are La Niña will ramp up again, and with them the chances that next winter will be a dry one.”

As recently as late August, forecasters, including those at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, were expecting a stronger-than-average El Niño to develop in the tropical Pacific, he said.

The earlier prediction of a strong El Niño was good news for drought recovery for most of the state, Nielsen-Gammon said. Though an El Niño’s effects are usually stronger in the southern parts of the state and along the Gulf Coast, it generally leads to wetter, cooler weather for the entire state.

Typically, the development of an El Niño begins with warmer ocean temperatures, at least about 1 degree Fahrenheit, above normal, which is what climatologists were seeing during the summer, he said. The situation, once it begins, usually results in a “feedback situation” that further raises ocean temperatures and magnifies the effect.

“As the warm temperatures spread across the Pacific, the winds weaken, allowing the warm water to remain at the surface longer before losing any of its heat,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “However, the feedback failed to develop, and now we are expecting a neutral situation,” he said.

“Neutral situation,” means there are now equal chances of either a wet or dry winter, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“In the meantime, the tropical Pacific is likely to stay neutral, he said. This means a good chance that rainfall this spring and summer will also tend to be close to normal, to the extent that Texas weather is ever normal,” he said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at