Challenging year ahead
Feed prices based on corn dropped following USDA's reports last week on higher prospective plantings and larger stocks than anticipated, but farmers know that the size of the harvest will remain in the hands of Mother Nature.
Drought is still in the forecast across much of the Plains, with the hardest hit area being Nebraska, Iowa and southern Minnesota. All are major corn-growing areas, said Eric Faulkner, operational meteorologist for MDA Weather Service, Gaithersburg, Md.
Drought conditions have diminished to the east in Illinois and the Ohio Valley, he said.
About 65 percent of the Corn Belt remains in at least moderate drought, with large swaths of the Plains still experiencing extreme to exceptional drought. That compares with only about 25 percent of the Corn Belt under drought conditions at the same time last year.
At this time last year, the most severe drought was in west Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Only small pockets of moderate drought were found in the Midwest. But by midsummer much of the region was in severe drought. Hardest hit last year was a swath that stretched from western Ohio into Nebraska.
Snow in March across most of the Plains region hasn't alleviated the drought or improved soil moisture below the top foot, he said. The ground was still frozen in most of those areas, making it difficult for snowmelt to penetrate the soil. Also, because snow melts quickly in the spring, it runs off and doesn't seep into the soil, he said.
Rain is not in the forecast for much of the region, he said.
Early April is expected to remain cold in many areas but by midmonth temperatures are expected to bounce back to average or above average, he said.
Temperatures east of the Rockies are going to be above average all summer, with warmer weather predicted for Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota and from Minnesota south into Texas, he said.
-- Carol Ryan Dumas