USDA’s forecast for $4.80 corn and $10.50 soybeans as an average price for the 2013-2014 marketing year may have shocked many people, as did the forecast for a 14.5 billion bushel corn crop and a 3.4 billion bushel soybean crop. Both of those were a function of acreage, which is yet to be seen, and weather, which the USDA expects to be normal. And that is no surprise, since the estimate of normal weather is a policy when USDA makes projections. But will the weather be normal? And what do we know about that right now? But another big question is what about the Mississippi River?
The weather for the 2013 growing season will be one of the more anticipated aspects of the season.The lack of influence (pdf) by either El Niño or La Niña leaves a great degree of uncertainty. Generally, El Niño will bring cooler and wetter weather for the Corn Belt and La Niña will bring warmer and drier weather. 2012 began as a function of La Niña in the spring and when the Equatorial sea surface temperatures warmed, La Niña faded away leaving the Corn Belt with neutral weather.
Neutral Weather for 2013
Neutral is what exists now in the Corn Belt and the Climate Prediction Center indicates that will last through fall 2013 at the least. There is no distinct trend toward an El Niño or a La Niña, as it would pertain to moisture. Spring will be warm, wet and early in the eastern Corn Belt says Indiana Climatologist Dev Niyogi, based on the Climate Prediction Center’s March to May outlook. But he is expecting more drought, and says, “This is expected to turn to some drying in the growing season, leading to mild to moderate drought conditions across Indiana.” The CPC forecast covered Wisconsin to Tennessee and east to Ohio. Drought recently has been eliminated in most of the eastern Corn Belt.
While the precipitation is undetermined, that leaves two concerns for Corn Belt farmers. One is having sufficient moisture to produce a crop that will cover operational costs, and crop insurance can help to some extent with that. The other concern is having enough water in the Mississippi River to maintain sufficient depths to transport grain to Gulf export terminals. That issue has been a significant challenge since November when flows from the Missouri River were restricted. But the question for the spring and summer will be whether there will be enough moisture in the Missouri River watershed to produce enough runoff for creeks, streams and tributaries to fill up the Missouri River, and provide water to the Mississippi.
Mississippi and Missouri Rivers
MeteorologistSteve Buan of NOAA North Central River forecast Center recently reported to Congress there were reduced chances for spring snowmelt flooding, and there was a reduced chance for overall significant spring rise in river levels. He also said there is a 40% chance to have fall 2013 flows as low or lower than last year.
During the past three months the mid-Mississippi was kept open without added flow of water from the Missouri River, which many farm groups and grain exporters pleaded for last fall. High-level Corps decisions kept the Missouri flow reduced as reservoirs in thatwatershed are replenished. However, that may not be a quick process, based on the Drought Monitor and drought projections by NOAA and the National Weather Service. The center of the drought is focused in the Missouri River watershed. This implies that the Missouri may be unable to provide water to the Mississippi River during 2013 because of the need to manage reservoirs and any rains will be more likely to be absorbed into the soil, rather than fill streams and ultimately the Missouri River.
OK for now
Although dredging has ended on the mid-Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, work continues by contractors to remove rocks in the barge channel as conditions permit. But higher water levels have prevented daily work, while barges and tows benefit from deeper drafts. TheArmy Corps of Engineers says there were no reported groundings ofbarges during the extensive effort to keep the barge traffic flowing despite the rocky shoals. Farmers who may have been upset with the Corps’ 2011 decision to blow up the Birds Point Levee and flood 120,000 acres of farmland, can thank the same folks who responded to the low water and expedited the rock removal to keep grain barges moving southward to Gulf export terminals. That was accomplished with no additional funds added to the budget. Agriculture has likely gained a greater respect for those who job it is to manage a river. That is quite a task when you think about it.
Weather forecasts for the 2013 cropping season indicate the lack of weather patterns that will dominate the delivery of moisture for crop production. However, the Missouri River Watershed is currently in an exceptional drought, and the water from the Missouri is needed for maintenance of river depths on the Mississippi for normal barge operations. Under current forecasts, chances are strong that low water on the Mississippi will last through next fall.