This season is setting up to be a tale of two summers.
A wide swath of the Midwest is swimming in water. Ohio farmer Keith Peters’ biggest concern is the swollen Columbus River, while Indiana grower Scott Wallis has heard of neighbors erecting levies.
But more southern and western regions are parched — irrigation pumps are working overtime where Reed Storey farms in east-central Arkansas, and Oklahoma grower Zack Rendel’s corn and soybeans are baking.
This pattern isn’t budging any time soon, noted DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson. “I think we are going to see this pattern continue through probably the end of June and most of July,” he said. “That means a big disparity in crop yield prospects — favorable in the north, central and east, and not as promising south and west.”
DTN periodically surveys a group of producers known as DTN Agronomy Advisers throughout the season for details on fieldwork, crop conditions and other issues facing agriculture. This month, these farmers highlighted the widely varying conditions facing growers this June.
THE RAINS CAME… AND KEPT ON COMING
“We have a widely variable pattern going across the central part of the country right now — with the northern, central and eastern Midwest getting good rains, and the southwestern Midwest through the Southern Plains taking in much less moisture,” explained Anderson.
Those good rains have kept most crops happy in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Ohio, farmers told DTN.
“Our corn is from knee tall to head tall and growing at an unreal rate,” said Wallis, who farms in southwestern Indiana. John Werries noted that, in central Illinois, good emergence and a small planting window have produced lush, uniform fields of corn and soybeans.
Those same rains stalled planting and forced crop changes farther north, however.
In southeast Michigan, Raymond Simpkins switched half his corn acres to beans, as endless rains kept him out of the field in May. His crops are finally coming up and they look good, but small, he said. In Minnesota, Jeff Littrell and his son, Rhett, had to leave 40 acres of corn and 38 acres of soybeans unplanted.
“We threw in the towel and decided to use prevent plant,” Jeff said. “Rhett went five days past the final plant date on corn and the final plant date for soybeans was June 10th. I planted corn until June 26th in 2013, and I told myself never again.”
Even within this region of heavy rains, small flash droughts have popped up and left some growers frustrated. Where Josh Miller farms deep in southern Illinois, temperatures soared over 100 this week, and rain has been scarce. “Some corn is starting to twist pretty badly,” he noted. “The corn is variable … from really good to fairly crappy.”
After an extremely soggy May in Michigan, “We went from mud to dust in a matter of a week,” after strong winds and high temperatures combined to crust over flooded soils, added Simpkins.
“THE SPIGOT TURNED OFF AND THE OVEN KICKED ON”
The U.S. Drought Monitor currently shows a wide arc of plentiful moisture swooping across the Corn Belt. Those outside that well-watered arc are hurting.
“Western Illinois, southern Iowa, Missouri and onward west and southwest are left out,” Anderson said. “This corresponds with the edge of an upper-level high-pressure ridge that has kept things hot and dry in the Southern Plains and bubbled into the southwestern Midwest.”
With nothing coming from the sky, Arkansas growers are looking underground for their moisture, Storey said.
“Here in east-central Arkansas, we’re wide-open irrigating corn, laying poly pipe in the cotton and soybeans, and cranking the pivots up in the cotton and soybeans,” he said. “Needless to say, we’re praying for some of the Good Lord’s irrigation.”
Irrigation is not an option for Zack Rendel, who farms corn, soybeans, sorghum, canola and wheat in northeastern Oklahoma. This month, “The spigot turned off and the oven kicked on, and now we have a bunch of pineapple plants out there,” he said. A timely one-inch rain mid-week may have saved some of his cornfields from becoming silage, but the area is still very dry.
Wheat harvest has started, and many growers are holding off on double cropping soybeans, Rendel said. “Where it’s dry, guys just won’t plant anything until we get a rain because the ground is so hard and dry that we have to sink 2.5 to 3 inches to get moisture,” he said.
Ever the optimist, though, he noted that the heat has helped canola and wheat dry down quickly and may push wheat protein levels high enough to collect decent premiums after harvest this year.
Until then, you’ll find Rendel trying every rain trick in the book.
“We washed all the trucks — a good $12 wash — we left all the car windows open, even left a pallet of beans out!” he said. “It didn’t rain that time. But we’re still trying.”
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org