Any hopes of getting corn and soybean planting back on track in the U.S. may have been washed away starting May 17 as a pair of storms threatened to deliver a “one-two punch” of soaking rain and tornadoes across the Great Plains and Midwest through the next week.
As much as 3 to 5 inches of rain will soak soils from South Dakota and Minnesota south to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. Widespread severe thunderstorms that can spark tornadoes were also expected across the region through May 21.
“It is kind of like a one-two punch with multiple days of severe weather and heavy rainfall,” said Marc Chenard, a senior branch forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center.
Floods and drenching rains have mired planting progress across the Great Plains, Mississippi Delta and Midwest for months, with corn, soybeans, cotton and rice all lagging behind the five-year average through May 12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture weekly crop progress report released May 13.
The grass is greener for grazing cattle, though. The extra rain has led to deep, rich pastures, said Troy Vetterkind, owner of Vetterkind Cattle Brokerage in Thorp, Wisconsin.
That means animals could stay on fields longer, which may curb some meat production and be mildly supportive for markets, he said.
Pasture conditions in the U.S. were 63% good or excellent in the week ending May 12, compared with just 43% the prior year, according to the USDA.
Farmers across the central U.S. who raise crops, however, have been looking for stretches of dry weather to plant seeds. For some, the clock is ticking away. In Iowa, for example, corn needs to be planted by the end of May and beans by mid-June, Mike Naig, the state’s secretary of agriculture, said by telephone.
“There is some time here,” he said. “If we get some sunny days and the conditions are right, our farmers can move very quickly and get a lot of acres planted. I am still hopeful. As we look to the end of the month we are going to see things really break open.’’
The weather hasn’t been on the side of U.S. farmers since last summer, delivering rural communities another blow amid a multi-year downturn in prices and a yearlong trade war with China.
The contiguous U.S. had its third wettest year on record in 2018, and the heavy rain and snow has continued into 2019, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina.
Last year’s saturated soils froze in place through winter leaving melting snow and early rains this year no place to go, said Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist in Washington. This set up widespread flooding along many rivers including the Mississippi, Missouri and Red River of the North.
Chenard said another week of rain could push those rivers above their banks again.
Since then, there has been little let up from a constant parade of storms, said Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist at Energy Weather Group in Philadelphia. High pressure ridges have set up across southwestern Canada and the Pacific Northwest, along with another in the Atlantic, which has left a low pressure trough stretching from the southern Great Plains to the Great Lakes that has acted as a storm boulevard.
There could be brief respite with warm and dry conditions before another series of storms moves through to close out May, said Mike Tannura, meteorologist at T-storm Weather in Chicago. Fields that still need planting might be running into serious problems.
The storms will bring “an exceptional volume of rainfall across the central U.S. at any time of year,” Tannura said.
Rippey also serves as one of the authors of the weekly Drought Monitor, which has tracked soil conditions for almost 20 years. Only 2.28% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought three weeks ago, a record for the monitor, and it has only ticked up to 2.53% last week
“It’s record low in the 20-year history of the Drought Monitor,’’ Rippey said. “So on the bright side we aren’t worried about drought in the U.S. right now.’’