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Crops

Spring planting: Trends indicate relatively positive outlook for upcoming season

Written by Natasha Wheeler

The recent, strong El Niño phenomenon has plateaued and will likely diminish soon, according to Plantalytics Senior Business Meteorologist Jeffrey Doran.

Doran was one of several speakers during a March 30 Plantalytics webinar, presenting the likely outlook for weather and planting in the upcoming season.

“This El Niño has actually tied for the strongest ever with 1997-98, and in the short term, remnants of El Niño will be influential,” he noted.

Neutral weather patterns are likely to settle in quickly, although comparative years from the past indicate that it may be difficult to predict how quickly or severely the El Niño pattern will subside.

“In 1958, the transition never fully occurred. That’s more of a rarity. Other years represent what we typically know to be the case, and that is a very rapid transition. But that transition can be a lot different. In 2007, it was a lot slower. It wasn’t until August that we saw neutral patterns, and in 2010, it was a lot quicker, and we actually got to neutral by May,” he explained.

Precipitation

Looking at current moisture conditions, Doran commented that the Drought Monitor indicates continued dry conditions in California, despite increased precipitation this winter.

“Storm tracks across the Pacific Northwest have brought plenty of moisture to that area, and down south, a subtropical jetstream has brought plenty of moisture to Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, right in the middle is where we are not getting the precipitation we desperately need,” Doran explained.

In the Southeast and Delta regions of the United States, excessive moisture is becoming a concern due to saturated soils, but adequate precipitation levels are predicted throughout most of the nation for the first few weeks of April.

“May looks warmer for most growing areas on average. That’s good news to start to get the crop in and get some growing-degree days. In terms of precipitation, there are no anomalous trends,” Doran continued, indicating that the beginning of the planting season should be favorable for many farmers in the U.S.

The forecast for June continues to look favorable, with adequate moisture across the Corn Belt, although Texas and the Delta region may experience a dry spell with warmer temperatures that month.

Vegetation index

Jude Kastens, research assistant professor at Kansas State University, noted that the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) indicates that the western Corn Belt has not yet begun to show significant crop growth, and strong snowpack is evident in the Rocky Mountains.

“Plants photosynthesize heavily in the red portion of the visible light spectrum, and healthy vegetation tends to reflect light very heavily in the near infrared. The NDVI utilizes those two aspects of reflectance from healthy vegetation as opposed to not healthy vegetation and creates an index that increases with vegetation vigor,” he described.

In the heart of the wheat belt, from central Kansas to Oklahoma and north-central Texas, NDVI data indicates fall-planted wheat is beginning to emerge, showing advanced crop development due to high moisture levels.

“The Northwest crop emergence appears to be about normal pace for that area,” he added.

Crop predictions

Market crop basis levels for this season have flat-lined, according to Kevin McNew, ag economist with GrainHedge, who also spoke during the webinar.

“Traditionally, basis moves from lowest at harvest to highest as we go through the season into the late spring and early summer. This year, U.S. average basis has been flat. I attribute that to farmers holding tight to stock,” he remarked.

Collectively, the three major crops – corn, soybeans and wheat – have the largest stocks in the U.S. compared to the last 10 years, and McNew stated, there are currently no real grain shortages.

“Our expectations for corn planting this season are 7.8 billion bushels, which is only slightly up from last year but still an exceptionally high number,” he said.

Wheat is expected to drop 3 million acres from last year, after a natural drop in winter wheat plantings seen in the USDA’s January crop report.

Corn levels

“Corn is going to be the wildcard. Corn is the one thing that we have a hard time gauging,” McNew added.

Corn export and industrial inventories are closely monitored, but there is not currently an accurate measure for corn used in livestock feed, according to McNew.

“The corn number has the potential to be somewhat shocking one way or the other,” he mentioned. “Right now, the average analyst expects a 2 million acre increase in corn. Most people I talk to are saying that’s probably a given, and we could even have that number higher, based on the crop that gives farmers upside yield potential.”

As the season progresses, meteorologists and market analysts will continue to monitor trends, and the webinar speakers emphasized their continued efforts to keep clients informed as forecasts evolve into 2016.

Look for more on the corn and wheat outlook on page 23 of this week’s Roundup.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..