Heavy snows across portions of the Midwest were welcomed with open arms by many Corn Belt farmers, improving overall moisture recharge, though the Plains' winter wheat farmers continue to endure the area's season-long struggle, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.
'Virtually the entire Midwest is covered in snow as we head into late March, so obviously we will not be achieving any record-setting early planting this year," USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey said in an agency interview. "In fact, we see snow depths ranging from 4-8 inches in a number of Midwest cities, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Madison, Wis., Indianapolis, Ind., Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., and even into Dayton, Ohio."
The Drought Monitor reflects improving conditions, as adequate soil infiltration keeps planting at bay but sets impending summer crops off on the right foot. Some areas saw a reduction in abnormal dryness this week, but are otherwise free from drought conditions.
Northern portions of the Midwest, into Iowa and Wisconsin still see abnormally dry to moderate conditions, and are struggling with frozen soils, which minimize infiltration. However, USDA's Rippey says temperatures will be the hold-up for planting, not necessarily moisture.
"With cool soils, wet soils, and very low air temperatures continuing it will be several weeks before producers can really think about planting corn. It's going to take a bit of drying out and warming up, especially in the central and eastern part of the Corn Belt. With that said, we obviously welcome the moisture in the Midwest, because of the drought conditions that plagued the Corn Belt last year," Rippey said. "We still have some lingering drought across the upper portions of the Midwest, the western Corn Belt in particular, but certainly we are off to a better start moisture-wise than what we saw in 2012."
The Plains' hard red winter wheat growers haven't been as fortunate this winter, seeing low crop ratings and very little moisture. The Drought Monitor indicates that more than 90% of the High Plains is still experiencing some form of drought; In the southern region, including Oklahoma and Texas, more than 60% is in some form of drought.
"For the week ending March 24, unfortunately at the top of the list with 71% of the winter wheat crop rated very poor to poor is South Dakota; not too far behind is Nebraska at 61% and coming in at a tie for third place for the worst conditions, Texas and Colorado at both 47% very poor to poor," Rippey says.
Oklahoma, Kansas and Montana are faring better, but cool temperatures aren't helping.
"We have seen some very cold weather the last several mornings. Kind of puts up a red flag when you see winter wheat jointing and temperatures below 20. That raises a concern for potential freeze injury," Rippey adds.
Range and pastureland conditions aren't much better for the area, with 80% rated very poor to poor in Kansas and 70% rated very poor to poor in Oklahoma. In Texas, the rating is 62% and Colorado is at 81%.
Across the U.S., in Florida, range and pastureland is rated 50% poor to very poor, despite recent rains that have reached into Georgia, offering significant improvement.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Anthony Artusa says severe drought has been plaguing Georgia since Sept. 21, 2010, but all severe (D2) drought has now been removed from the area.
The National Agriculture Statistics Service Georgia Field Office reported 4.2 days suitable for fieldwork for the week ending March 24th. Statewide Topsoil Moisture was rated as 1% very short, 2% short, 58% adequate, and 39% surplus. Subsoil Moisture was rated at 1% very short, 10% short, 68% adequate, and 21% surplus.
Across the Northeast, precipitation was enough to ward off any further degradation for another week.
Click the map to see the latest drought monitor report.