Drought Grips Corn Belt, Crops at Risk

Jul 10, 2023

As rainfall swept through the southern half of the Corn Belt last week, hopes were high for improved crop conditions. However, the latest USDA Crop Progress report revealed mixed results, leaving farmers and experts puzzled. 

While national ratings for corn improved by 1 percentage point in the good-to-excellent category, soybeans saw a decline of 1 point, and spring wheat dropped by 2 points. Surprisingly, this occurred despite substantial rainfall in areas ranging from Nebraska to Kentucky and Tennessee.  

Many regions within this zone received over 2 inches of rain, with some drought-stricken areas in central Illinois to Kentucky even experiencing over 4 inches. Although portions of eastern Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin missed out on the rainfall, the disappointing report remains perplexing considering the substantial precipitation in the I-states (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana). 

The situation was further complicated by a heat dome that developed over Texas, extending into Kansas and Missouri. Temperatures surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit added stress to crops in the southern end of the Corn Belt. While subsequent rainfall and severe weather brought relief, the opposing effects of heat and rain seemed to offset each other.  

This likely explains why crop conditions declined in Kansas and Missouri despite the precipitation. Although improvements were observed where rain fell, they were not significant enough to counterbalance the deterioration in the far south and areas with less rainfall in the north. 

The subsoil layer, which has been experiencing drought conditions, depleting the already limited moisture reserves is of greatest concern. Subsoil moisture ratings have been alarmingly low, leaving crops vulnerable in case of dry spells. Some regions did witness improvements in the short-to-very short subsoil moisture categories, particularly where persistent or heavy rains occurred.  

States like Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan saw double-digit improvements, but the numbers still indicate substantial stress with significant proportions remaining in the short-to-very short range (67, 49, and 67, respectively). Most other Corn Belt states have ratings exceeding 40 percentage points, except for North Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Continued rainfall is crucial as crops enter or approach the reproductive stages to prevent further damage and meet earlier yield expectations. 

The pattern is expected to remain active, with a front moving through the Corn Belt bringing periods of rain to most areas. The southern end of the front, especially Kansas, Nebraska, and the Tennessee Valley, is anticipated to receive heavier rainfall. Northern regions will likely experience spottier showers, offering limited relief.  

Looking ahead, several fronts from a Canadian trough could bring additional showers, potentially linking with disturbances from the West to produce more substantial rainfall. However, recent model trends indicate a higher likelihood of spotty rains with the passing fronts. While temperatures are expected to remain mild, stress may persist in areas such as Texas and the Gulf Coast, though they may also experience rainfall over the next week. 

Source : wisconsinagconnection
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