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Climatologist predicts wet spring for farmers

AgFax.Com - Your Online Ag News Source


By Rick Bogren

Alexandria, Louisiana (February 3, 2009) – El Niņo is back, and Louisiana farmers – especially those in the southern part of the state – could be looking at a wet planting season, according to Jay Grymes, LSU AgCenter climatologist.

El Niņo creates warmer-than-normal water in the central Pacific, Grymes told a gathering of 175 farmers and agriculture industry representatives at the LSU AgCenter’s annual Ag Outlook meeting Jan. 21. 

The warm water affects the atmosphere above it and in the Pacific develops a sub-tropical jet stream over the Gulf of Mexico. This jet stream “induces winter storms in the Gulf of Mexico,” Grymes said.

“El Niņo creates a situation that increases the number of winter storms that impact our state,” Grymes said. These non-tropical storms are late fall-winter-spring phenomena. 

The next three months have a good chance of being wetter than normal, he said, adding that 65-70 percent of springs with El Niņo tend to be wet. 

“Farmers need to be prepared to act if more rain comes,” Grymes said. “We can anticipate rains of 6, 8, 10 inches or more at the local level” this spring. 

In addition to weather concerns, Louisiana farmers also face increased production in many crops without increased demand, according to Dr. Kurt Guidry, an LSU AgCenter economist. 

Supplies are increasing for a majority of commodities, Guidry said. So pressure is pushing prices down while acreage is up. 

Guidry said, however, that low interest rates and the strength of the dollar are supporting strong export markets for Louisiana crops. 

“Prices for imports are rising, and there’s not a big increase in production costs,” he said. 

Guidry predicted general profitability for Louisiana farmers in 2010, fueled by strong exports even in the face of growing worldwide inventories. 

His outlook was supported by Dr. Dek Terrell, director of the LSU Division of Economic Development and the Freeport McMoRan Professor of Economics at LSU. 

“The consensus forecast is for GDP indicators to grow in the coming year,” Terrell said. “The recession may be about over. That’s good news for farmers in terms of increased domestic demand.” 

GDP – or gross domestic product – is calculated by adding domestic consumption plus investment plus government spending plus net exports, he said.

“A weak dollar leads to better export demand, and that’s also good for farmers,” Terrell said. “It makes our products cheaper abroad and stimulates demand for our products.” 

The LSU economist said consumer confidence is improving significantly, but it’s still low. 

Farmers who practice conservation tillage may get through a wet spring a little easier, said Kevin Norton, Louisiana state conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Conservation tillage reduces the number of trips a farmer must make in a field and limits problems from excessive rainfall. 

“It reduces on-farm energy consumption, reduces water runoff and increases water-holding capacity of the soil,” Norton said. “Reducing runoff means less sediment and nutrients leaving the field.”  

Norton said that although conservation tillage requires a move to different equipment, farmers and the country in general can benefit.

“The more broadly you practice conservation, the more buffer you have,” he said. 

The Ag Outlook meeting is an annual gathering sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural resources Conservation Service and USDA-Rural Development.