Whatever weather farmers end up with for spring planting this year, it’s hard to imagine it could be worse than last year. Spring 2019 was extremely wet, with flooding and delayed planting in much of Iowa and the Corn Belt.
“Our winter has been primarily moderate with some snow accumulation, but not too much,” says Terry Basol, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist in northeast Iowa. “With the exception of a few days in January, temperatures were tolerable as well. Coming into spring with a full soil moisture profile from last fall, farmers I’ve talked to are optimistic for a favorable spring, allowing optimum planting dates and opportunity for good yield potential for 2020.”
Warm and wet spring forecast
The weather outlook for this spring from the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service was released March 19. It has a mixed set of indicators for Midwest and Plains agriculture, notes Dennis Todey, director of USDA’s Midwest Climate Hub, located at ISU in Ames.
The April outlook leans a little to the warm side for the Great Lakes and eastern Corn Belt, with a small area of possible below-average temperatures in the Northern Plains. Slightly higher chances of wetness exist in the central Plains and Midwest, including Iowa. This latest outlook is better news for the eastern Corn Belt with a chance for possibly earlier planting. But there will probably be windows for progress throughout the Midwest region.
The longer-term outlook for April through June suggests increased chances of warmth and precipitation for most of the region, including Iowa. The warmth would create more chances for drying and warming soils. “But this could be counteracted by increased rainfall,” Todey says. “Widespread warm and wet conditions usually do not occur simultaneously in the warm season in the Midwest and Plains. Comparing the two outlooks [April vs. April to June] indicates that the better chances for above-average precipitation would come later in the spring along with more potential for a warm-up.”
Be careful working on wet soil
Overall, the spring forecast hints at problems with wetness on already wet soils. Conditions are not expected to be as bad as last year, given less late snow, more early warmth and dryness in late winter, and slightly dryer soils in places. However, planting delays are still likely, Todey says.
Producers should be looking at options and set decision points in the spring for shifting plans if they are faced with delayed progress. Windows for planting will exist, but they will need to be balanced with soils ready for planting and field access. The most current Midwest Ag-Focus Outlook can be found here.
“We are still dealing with the long-term trend of wetter springs,” he adds. “So, we don’t want to say, ‘Yes, we are going to have a good spring for planting.’ But it does look like we’ll have some windows to work with here. We’re trying to balance the message of taking advantage of fieldwork and planting windows when you have them.
But don’t push it too much, Todey warns. “Wet soils are cause for concern. If you put traffic on wet fields, you’ll cause compaction issues. The downside last year was a lot of farming activity on soils that were too wet, causing long-term problems with soil conditions the rest of the growing season.”