U.S. Central Plains, South Russia and Ukraine dryness eased

by Drew Lerner
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Dryness that dominated the autumn season across portions of the U.S. Central Plains, southern Russia and Ukraine has been “eased” in the past few weeks, but much more relief is needed prior to spring to put crops on the road to recovery. Relief from dryness in parts of southern Russia and Ukraine only came after crop threatening cold weather occurred. Some damage was suspected to wheat and rye across the previously dry region in the western Commonwealth of Independent States.

Snow free conditions occurred from late November into early December across a large part of the previously dry region in southern Russia and Ukraine. Temperatures during the same period of time began slipping near and slightly below the damage threshold for unprotected crops in late November and damage was suspected. Multiple days of near-zero and subzero degree Fahrenheit temperatures were noted in areas that received very poor precipitation during the autumn planting season. Winter wheat and rye were not only poorly established when dormancy set in, but snow cover was absent when damaging temperatures affected the region. The already weakened state of crop conditions prior to the bitter cold likely raised the potential for damage in many areas when the cold arrived. Assessing the losses will not be possible prior to spring.

Some much needed snow and a little rain fell shortly after the coldest weather affected winter crops. Some protection came to crop areas as warmer air began to build into the region. Some waves of light rain and snow then occurred during mid-December across parts of western and northern Russia, Belarus and the Baltic States. Precipitation totals in western and northern Russia in the first half of December were near to above average, but there were a few locations in far west-central and southwestern Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that still reported less than half of normal precipitation.

At this time of year it does not take much precipitation to be rated above average, and that makes it a little misleading to talk about precipitation being above normal, unless the amounts of moisture are included in the discussion. A more meaningful assessment chart would be the November and early December percentage of normal precipitation chart in which it becomes obvious that a big part of southern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have not come out of their multi-month period of dryness. Dryness began in some of these areas back in the start of the planting season in August. The persistent below average precipitation leaves winter crops in poor condition.

A significant boost in precipitation must occur in the weeks and months leading up to the start of the spring growing season. If a below average precipitation bias prevails there may be further losses to some of the 2015 crop. The situation needs to be closely monitored. Weather in the second half of December is expected to remain drier than usual in the same areas reporting below average precipitation in the past six weeks putting much pressure on January and February precipitation to be above average so that there is moisture for crops to work with in the spring.

U.S. Central Plains

Rain and snow fell significantly across the central U.S. Plains during the week ended Dec. 15. Most of the precipitation occurred over two days ended Dec. 15. The precipitation varied from 0.20 to 0.80 of an inch, which is not enough to seriously soak the ground, but compared to “normal” precipitation at this time of year the moisture was quite significant.

Rain totals for the first half of December rose from less than half of normal in most of the central Plains to above average in just two days. A few counties in the interior west-central, northwestern and north-central Kansas into southeastern Nebraska failed to get enough moisture to seriously bolster soil moisture. However, eastern Colorado, far northwestern Kansas and much of western and central Nebraska did get enough moisture to improve field conditions with some areas getting significant snowfall, as well.

Winter wheat is dormant or semi-dormant across the central Plains, limiting the amount of improvement to crop conditions prior to spring. However, the ground was not completely frozen, and some of the moisture likely soaked into the soil where root and tiller systems will be able to benefit just as soon as soil temperatures are warm enough to support new growth again.

Even though some relief has occurred, additional precipitation still is needed to more fully replenish soil moisture levels back to normal.

In the meantime, many soft wheat production areas in the Midwest experienced drier biased conditions in the first half of December. The change was welcome after too much rain and too much cold weather occurred in November. The change was welcome, although the pattern may not prevail in southern parts of the Midwest. Some of the region from Missouri through southern Ohio was not included in the drier biased weather, and there is need for additional drying in those areas. Too much moisture and cold weather in November pushed crops into dormancy too soon, and many did not establish well.

Weather conditions in the United States were quite warm during the first half of December. Temperatures will trend cooler in the last half of the month, and precipitation is expected to increase once again. The moisture boost will be most significant from the southern Plains into the lower Ohio River Basin, lower Mississippi River Basin and southeastern states. The wetter conditions will leave the central U.S. Plains only partially eased from long-term dryness. The southern Plains, however, will see additional moisture to help assure improved winter crop establishment during periods of warmer than usual weather.

Argentina

Concern about Argentina grain quality came to an end during mid-December when a drier biased weather pattern kicked in and precipitation declined while temperatures were seasonable. The environment was perfect for promoting normal crop maturation and harvesting. A significant rain event that occurred early in December occurred over areas that were mostly harvested and the impact on crop production was minimal.

Almost all of the remaining harvest in Argentina was in Buenos Aires and La Pampa at mid-month, and weather during the second half of December was expected to be lighter than usual across most of the production region, which is likely to translate into good crop maturation and harvest conditions.

Australia

Worry over winter wheat conditions also came to an end in Australia during the middle part of December. A couple of significant rain events in southeastern portions of the nation during the first part of December scared the commodity market trade while it was still worrying over Russia, Ukraine, Argentina and central U.S. crop areas. The concern was that harvest conditions in southeastern Australia were going to be delayed long enough to have the wetter biased conditions damage grain quality. Those concerns were laid to rest as drier weather evolved during the middle of the month and was projected to continue into late month when the bulk of harvesting was expected to conclude.

South and Western Australia crop harvest weather was nearly ideal during the early to middle part of December.

India and China

Winter crops in India and China were planted favorably this autumn. Planting was complete at mid-month and crops were establishing normally. China had well-timed precipitation during the planting and establishment season while India received some significant rain during the weekend of Dec. 13-14, resulting in sufficient moisture to help improve crop emergence and establishment conditions. Weather conditions in the second half of December were expected to continue favorably in both countries.
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