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Early spring helps Iowa farmers

Risky years for drought

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

Air temperature: One of warmest in past 20 years.

Soil moisture: Plenty.

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Soil temperature: Week ahead of normal.

Result: Tractors in fields across Iowa.

Spring seems to be running about two weeks early, said Elwynn Taylor, ag meteorology professor at Iowa State University, while checking soil temperature and soil moisture Friday morning.

Spring is an uncertain time, with clues just beginning to emerge about what kind of growing season will follow.

Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana have had alternate months of wet and dry and that could spread to Iowa, Taylor said.

There aren't any real indications of drought. The ocean temperatures north of Hawaii and around the equator west of South America that have direct bearing on what goes on in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin are neutral.

The ocean is slightly cooler to the east of Florida, which is a positive factor that could indicate a good possibility of moisture being at least normal in the near future, Taylor said.

Spring could be warmer than usual, but that doesn't mean there won't be a damaging frost.

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In fact, one of the latest frosts in recent times was in one of the warmest springs, he said.

Farmers were wise not to have the crop planted last week when soil temperatures dropped, because the seed would have stopped growing, Taylor said. In recent years farmers have noticed crop growth stopping, especially in soybeans.

Farmers shouldn't count on a repeat of last yearr. The very cool summer was not an advantage to crops in the northern extreme of the Corn Belt.

"This condition of warm spring, cool summer and warm September has occurred five times in the past 45 years, each time resulting in a new record high national corn yield," Taylor said. "But don't count on it again this year, because it's about one in nine or one in 10 chance of having such weather."

The years 2005 through 2010 may also be considered risky times for a general Corn Belt drought because the last widespread drought was in 1988. It is not uncommon to have 15 to 20 years between these droughts, Taylor said.

Of the 17 droughts in the past century, 16 began in South Carolina and spread west and north.

"The good news is South Carolina seems to be having an abnormally wet spring," Taylor said.

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