Planting season is here, with field prep work and planting of corn underway. Initial 2017 crop season concerns include the early-spring weather progression from late-winter warmth and its impact on alfalfa and soil nitrogen levels. The warm and wet conditions allow soil nitrogen to convert to nitrate, which can be easily lost. A late-spring soil nitrate test would help determine if an additional nitrogen application is needed to meet this year’s corn crop demands.
Dennis Todey, USDA Midwest Climate Hub director, offers the following timely weather information as farmers prepare for crop year 2017. As the season begins, key factors to consider include these trends to watch.
Soil conditions. Background precipitation issues differ between northern and southern Iowa. Heavier rain fell across northern Iowa last fall, producing wetter harvest conditions. Some soil wetness issues are likely to carry over into the spring. In contrast, chunks of southern Iowa were much drier — not only in the fall, but also through the summer. National soil moisture models currently support this difference in soil conditions, indicating overall wetter in the north and drier in the far southeast.
Precipitation outlook. While several recent storms have produced more rain in southern Iowa, the focus on precipitation should again switch to northern Iowa. The current 30-day April outlook and spring (April-June) outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has better chances for above-average precipitation in northern Iowa. Combining this rainfall potential with the carryover wetness from the fall creates the highest risk for wetter planting conditions across the north.
Growing-season outlook. Looking ahead to the rest of the growing season, weather forecasters use a few tools, including the status of El Niño conditions and computer-based outlooks. The current El Niño situation is neutral, but hinting toward El Niño conditions by late summer. The switch to El Niño would reduce the risk of a poor growing season, but it seems unlikely to start in time to affect the 2017 growing season. The progress will be monitored throughout the season.
Drought risk. Computer-generated weather outlooks lean toward a smaller chance of dry conditions across most of the state for the growing season. Thus, the overall drought risk seems fairly small at this point. It should be noted that longer-range precipitation outlooks are more difficult to assess.
Temperature outlook. Temperature outlooks in Iowa and the whole Midwest are likely warmer than average. This is based mostly on recent trends of warmth in the summer, which has been driven by warmer overnight temperatures. The risk of excessively high day temperatures seems lower at this point.
Severe weather risk. Overall storminess would likely be increased along with more precipitation. But the chances of severe weather currently are similar to climatology at this point.