It has been quite a winter and it is still going on in some parts of the country. But a month from now tractors will be rolling and some seeds will already be in the ground for the 2014 crops. Last week, we looked at the budgets for the major crops – this week we look at early season weather forecasts. At least at this point there are few signs of real problems during the spring planting season.

Spring weather outlookDrought is still a significant problem in some parts of the country. Severe to exceptional drought conditions are still evident in the western states, especially in California. The severity of the drought conditions and the location will significantly impact production of a lot of crops that can’t be grown effectively in other parts of the country. The drought out west will probably also impact cotton, rice, alfalfa and even wheat production this year.

Severe to extreme drought conditions also persist in the central Plains states where a lot of the hard red winter wheat is grown. For some parts of the region, especially in the southern Plains, the drought conditions have been in place for the last several years. Some of the land in the region is irrigated but the drought is impacting acreage and production even in these areas as water supplies decline and pumping costs increase. While drought conditions are serious in the central Plains region, they are much improved from the situation in mid-March of 2013.

Spring weather outlookModerate drought conditions are reported in a few areas in the Western Corn Belt but the current situation is much less ominous than it was a year ago. But conditions can change quickly. Last year in mid-March severe to extreme drought conditions were reported for most of Iowa and Minnesota and the western half of Wisconsin. By the end of May these conditions had disappeared. Crops in the heart of the U.S. will be affected by weather during April and May, the key planting months.

The National Weather Service forecasts for this period of time suggest generally “normal” temperature and precipitation conditions for the April – June period. If weather conditions are near “normal” the amount of acreage left unplanted in 2014 should drop sharply from the 9 million acres or more that were left idle last year because of the wet spring. Several sources, including the National Weather Service now say there is at least a 50 percent chance of an El Nino developing this summer. If that happens, the growing summer growing season for the Midwest should be more favorable than was the case in either 2012 or 2013.