La Niña Challenge for Corn Following Corn?


With the possibility of another La Niña weather pattern lingering into 2012, farmers in the Upper Midwest may be facing another hot, dry summer, similar to 2011 that could bring about disappointing results for some corn and soybean growers, according to Drew Lerner, World Weather Inc., owner and meteorologist. Lerner notes that corn is often impacted first by La Niña, but its effect is also a function of when planting occurs.

“The later corn is planted, the higher the potential for problems during a La Niña summer if the prevailing weather pattern is dry,” says Lerner. “Early planted corn can sometimes avoid a serious problem with La Niña, but the impact then becomes a function of the prevailing weather pattern and soil moisture in the spring.”

If hot, dry weather reigns this summer, Illinois farmers who grow corn following corn may be facing their third bad production year in a row. Yields over the last two cropping seasons have been quite disappointing for many farmers who regularly plant corn after corn, according to Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist. In a fall 2011 press release, Nafziger notes that corn following corn in some areas yielded 60-70 bu./acre less than corn following soybeans in fields planted with similar practices.

“When the rains stopped in many areas during late June and the soil dried in July and August, the effects were much more severe in most corn-on-corn fields than in fields where corn followed soybean,” reports Nafziger. “With good weather, yields are often similar between the two [practices], and so for many producers the lower yields came as a surprise, or even a shock.”

In Illinois, concerns over corn following corn production are increasing, and some growers have decided to rotate back to soybeans in 2012 as a result, says Nafziger. He adds that dry weather also had a negative impact on soybean yields in the state, which averaged 46 bu./acre in 2011, compared to 51.5 bu./acre in 2010 – the current state record.

La Niña weather patterns do pose a potential threat to soybean yields as well as corn, confirms Lerner. “Soybean reproduction occurs later in the summer when La Niña’s drying influence is often most significant,” he says. “However, all these influences from La Niña are based on the assumption that La Niña is a significant event and it prevails through the entire summer.”

There is no crystal ball that will accurately predict if the current La Niña will continue to strengthen or that weather problems will occur to harm continuous corn production more than corn grown in rotation to soybeans if it does. Still, the Illinois example from last year’s La Niña year might provoke a little rethinking among current continuous corn producers both in and outside Illinois.

2012 just might be a year when rotating back to a corn/soybean production system makes sense compared to continuing on with large acreages invested in corn following corn. Then again, I’m not a big risk taker, and sometimes profit follows the greater risk.

Many farmers across the Midwest might say that corn following corn production has performed just fine over the last two years, and they’re not expecting a change in 2012. Even in Illinois not all farmers have been disappointed with corn following corn production compared to corn following soybeans during the last two years.

Of course, prevailing crop prices and ethanol contracts will also have their say on what farmers decide. In the end though, Mother Nature will also have its say, and it could be bad.

You may have a different opinion on how corn following corn performs in a La Niña year, or any year. There may be a reason why soybeans don’t work well on your soils and corn does, or why corn remains the more profitable crop, even when grown in consecutive years and unproductive weather patterns prevail.

As always, I welcome your input on this or any topic related to soybean production and/or farm life. When writing, please let me know your name, where you farm or work, what your comment is and whether or not I have permission to use your comment in a future Soybean E-Digest newsletter.

You can contact me (John Pocock) at: [email protected]. Thanks for your readership.

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