Which is a greater concern: Lack of soil moisture or snow?

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How is your soil moisture, and is your ground frozen yet? In other words, if you did get some precipitation, would it soak in or run off and be lost to the 2012 crop? That is a significant concern to many farmers because of the resurgence of La Nina late in the year and only spotty moisture has fallen where widespread areas have less than adequate topsoil and subsoil moisture to get the 2012 crop off and running in good fashion. Let’s check around the Cornbelt for an update on soil moisture and how the winter wheat crop is doing.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is reporting a lack of snow cover on a lot of the winter wheat crop, but increased precipitation is allowing soil moisture levels to recover, at least in the topsoil. Many subsoil readings are not available.

ILLINOIS: Topsoil moisture is rated as 86% adequate and 9% surplus. Wheat producers reported favorable conditions, but some are concerned about the lack of snow cover. Winter wheat conditions stand at 2 percent poor, 17 percent fair, 72 percent good, and 9 percent excellent.

INDIANA: December was both warmer and wetter than normal in Indiana. The state average temperature of 36.7º was 5.5º above normal while 4.55 inches of precipitation fell which was 1.49 inches above normal. A limited amount of corn remains to be harvested in some eastern counties, but farmers will have to wait until the ground freezes hard enough to support equipment. Winter wheat is reported to be in mostly good condition as temperatures have not been cold enough to cause much winter kill or heaving, since there is no snow cover.

IOWA: Topsoil moisture levels rated 24% very short, 31% short, 44% adequate, and 1% surplus. Most of Iowa had no need for a snow shovel in December as the State experienced above normal temperatures and below normal snowfall. Warm weather and a lack of snow cover on fields were noted.

KANSAS: Topsoil moisture 7% very short, 17% short, 69% adequate, 7% surplus. Winter wheat condition 2% very poor, 7% poor, 38% fair, 46% good, and 7% excellent. Range and pasture condition 28% very poor, 25% poor, 32% fair, 15% good. Stock water supplies 11% very short, 19% short, 69% adequate, 1% surplus. Most areas of Kansas received much needed moisture during the month of December with thirty-four of the 52 stations reporting over 2 inches of precipitation. The Southwest District is still very dry with 64% reported short to very short for topsoil moisture. For 2011, only 11 of the 52 stations received above normal precipitation. The precipitation at the end of December helped to replenish water in many stock ponds, but more is necessary to fill ponds to capacity.

MICHIGAN: The precipitation for the past four weeks ending January 1 varied from 0.87 inches to 1.99 inches. The month of December was much warmer than normal and yielded much less snow fall. Producers stated that more snow cover was needed to protect winter wheat.

MINNESOTA: December was warm and dry. Temperatures for the month averaged from 7.0 to 11.3 degrees above normal. Precipitation averaged from 0.47 inch below normal to 0.08 inch above normal. Most observers reported monthly average temperatures that ranged from 5 to 10 degrees warmer than normal, placing 2011 among the top ten warmest Decembers Statewide. The lack of precipitation during December placed it among the ten driest in history, according to the Minnesota state climatology office. As of December 27, with the exception of the southeastern tip, the entire State was rated from abnormally dry to undergoing a severe drought by the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of December 29, snow cover was negligible across the State.

MISSOURI: December was warmer and wetter than normal. Average temperatures were 3 to 6 degrees above normal. Precipitation averaged 3.64 inches compared to the December 30 year average of 2.67 inches. The condition of the dormant winter wheat crop ranges from poor to excellent with the majority rated good. The condition of some winter wheat in the southeast district was poor due to standing water after 7.4 inches in December.

NEBRASKA: Wheat conditions rated 1% poor, 25% fair, 70% good, and 4% excellent. Weather conditions were relatively mild and dry compared to the same month last year. High temperatures reached the upper 60’s and lows fell to - 16 degrees. Snow that had fallen during the month melted with the above normal temperatures. Wheat conditions were well above year ago levels. The majority of the State saw temperatures average 2-6 degrees above normal. The southeast corner of the State received from 1 to 3 inches of precipitation, while much of the west and north received a half inch or less.

NORTH DAKOTA: Average snow depth was 0.2 on January 1. Snow cover protection for alfalfa was rated 98% poor, 2% adequate. Snow cover protection for winter wheat was rated 94% poor, 6% adequate. The month of December brought warmer than average temperatures and very little snow accumulation to the State. While the mild weather conditions were welcomed by most, some winter wheat and alfalfa producers expressed concern over the lack of adequate snow cover for their crops.

OHIO: The December 2011 average temperature for Ohio was 37.0 degrees, 5.3 degrees above normal. Precipitation for the State averaged 4.35 inches, 1.43 inches above normal. Winter wheat producing counties report that the wheat crop is in fair to good condition. Much of the crop was planted late and acreage is down from operator planting intentions due to a wet fall; however planted wheat crops are in good shape. Initial snow cover in fields occurred during the last week of December, which is behind usual conditions.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Average snow depth (inches) 0.1. Winter wheat snow cover 95% poor, 5% adequate. Winter wheat 1% very poor, 11% poor, 47% fair, 38% good, 3% excellent. Alfalfa snow cover 96% poor, 4% adequate. Stock water supplies 1% very short, 7% short, 88% adequate, 4% surplus.

WISCONSIN: December average temperatures ranged from 6 to 8 degrees above normal. Average high temperatures ranged from 32 to 40 degrees. Average low temperatures ranged from 17 to 27 degrees. Full month precipitation ranged from 1.19 inches to 2.24 inches. The entire State received snow in December, but above average temperatures resulted in little to no accumulation in the southern portions of the State.

Warmer than average temperatures have left most of the Cornbelt and Great Plains with little to no snow cover on winter wheat, risking its ability to withstand unusually cold temperatures.  While some scattered areas received abundant rains, many areas remain dry, with soil moisture levels less than satisfactory going into winter.

Source: FarmGate blog

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