KANSAS CITY — Drought remains in much of the US Great Plains, and it varies greatly across the region. For hard red winter wheat areas the driest areas are in Oklahoma and northern Texas, although some areas in eastern Colorado are not far behind. Considerable precipitation fell in late January in a narrow band in east-central Colorado and west-central Kansas, the only area that has received enough moisture to ease drought, but World Weather, Inc. is noting that the north half of the region can be brought out of drought quite easily with a brief storm or two.
The Southern Plains dryness will require more rain. The late winter and early spring offer some rain that will help to green up crops and improve early season development, but warm and dry weather later in the season likely will clip the improving trend and bring back stress as some crops reproduce.
A freakish upslope precipitation event that occurred in west-central and northwestern parts of Kansas and northeastern and east-central Colorado Jan. 25-26 produced substantial snow, and its water equivalency was enough to bring precipitation since the first of January above normal. However, this is an exception to the otherwise dry bias that has been dominating much of the central and southwestern Plains for an extended period of time. It is interesting to note, though, that the dryness in hard red winter wheat country is mostly in Oklahoma and Texas, and the moisture deficits in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska are not significant enough that a single storm or two could not produce enough moisture to restore favorable soil moisture.
So, what are the odds that a storm or two could come along and produce enough moisture to improve crop and field conditions this late winter and spring? World Weather, Inc. believes the odds are good that a couple of storms will impact the Central and Southern Plains this late winter and early spring to lift topsoil moisture and begin to improve crop development for many areas. The storms will not likely bring enough moisture to fix long-term moisture deficits in Texas and Oklahoma, but enough to probably induce greening and to spur some crop growth and development. The moisture might be sufficient for drought and freeze damaged crops to begin setting new tillers and “if” those new tillers are successful production could be restored … but will they?
Wheat, like most grasses (including hay, alfalfa and oats) usually respond well to light amounts of moisture in the spring, and World Weather, Inc. believes there will be enough precipitation in March and early April to improve many crops in the region, although the moisture will not likely come from a long line of storm systems. Enough will impact the region to raise topsoil moisture to begin new crop development.
However, a problem may evolve later in April and May while some crops will be reproducing and filling that might result from an earlier-than-usual high-pressure ridge that would produce warmer-than-usual temperatures and cut off the precipitation. The anticipated change may occur after crops have been stimulated into some kind of improving trend, and then the moisture will run out and temperatures will rise enough above average to warrant greater amounts of moisture, which may not come, resulting in greater crop stress. It is at that time that the greatest yield potential declines may occur this spring.
The bottom line for producers and traders will be to expect some relief from dryness in the next few weeks — mostly in March. The storms that impact the region will always favor the east over the west, but enough moisture will occur in many areas to stimulate greening and early season crop development. When temperatures warm sufficiently, however, moisture deficits in the soil will remain, especially in the south. As soon as the temperatures turn notably warm the evaporation rates will begin outpacing the moisture, and that is when trouble will begin for this year’s crop.
The most likely time frame for the biggest bout of warmer and drier weather that will threaten crop development will begin in mid-April and continue into May. Some short-term bouts of warm weather will occur in March, but temperatures during that month likely will bounce around enough to limit moisture losses except in the southwestern Plains, where the warmest bias is expected soonest and will last longest — which is not unusual during any late winter and early spring.
Production cuts are still expected this year because of the combined impact of poor establishment in the driest areas of the south, wild temperature swings with little to no snow on the ground damaging some crops during the heart of winter, and dryness and heat that may impact a part of the region while crops are trying to recover from the previous damage and as reproduction gets underway.
Weather patterns can always change, but this is the scenario that World Weather, Inc. believes is most likely to take place over the next few months — at least in the central and southwestern Plains. The timing of when the rain or snow falls and when the ridge of high pressure develops will determine the impact of this year’s adverse weather and the entire scenario should be closely monitored over the next few months.
In the meantime, another place in the world that is quite dry today is North Africa. Morocco is already in a multi-year drought, and it was too dry for its southwestern crop areas to plant this year because of no irrigation water. The same thing happened in 2021. Other areas in Morocco are not quite as dry, but rain is needed most in the northeast part of the nation along with northwestern Algeria. Some of the winter crops in these latter two areas could still perform well if timely rain begins soon.
Northeastern Algeria and Tunisia have the best established wheat and barley this winter and even though crops have been drying out recently there is potential for good yield potentials if rain begins in March and continues into April. February will end with restricted rain, but at least some moisture.
Winterkill in areas outside of North America has been minimal this winter due to warmer-than-usual temperatures. Snow cover has been widespread and abundant in Russia and parts of Ukraine, although recent warming is melting some of the snow in the south.
China’s crops are in good shape, too, and most of the crops from Europe through Asia are just waiting for spring to begin aggressive development. India’s crops, of course, are more advanced and are in the midst of reproduction following wetter-than-usual conditions since the end of December in many production areas.