Ag Instructor Vic Martin: What does the 2017 cropping season look like?

Published February 26, 2017
Great Bend Tribune

As this is being written, the drought monitor update for the past week hasn’t been released.  It will likely look the same as last week with a doughnut hole of sorts for North Central, Northeast and South Central Kansas in pretty good shape but with that area shrinking as more abnormally dry conditions creep in.  The western third of Kansas is in moderate drought with severe drought expanding in Southwest Kansas.  Above normal temperatures will work to deplete soil moisture.  Wheat is greening up and ready for spring.  So what does the Spring/Summer forecast look like?  Where is our weather headed for the 2017 growing season?

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for the entire period from now through the end of the year are forecasting that temperatures will be above normal and the likelihood increases as you move to the southwest portion of the state.  They are not predicting temperatures as extreme as 2012 but the forecasts are updated regularly and could change.  The precipitation outlook is for “Equal Chances” of above or below normal precipitation.  Again this outlook may change.  What about other prediction sources?

Various almanacs naturally call for various patterns.  Some independent weather gurus in the region are calling for stormy weather outbreaks this spring, above to well-above normal temperatures over the summer and a pronounced lack of rainfall for the summer growing season.  So take your pick and choose whatever prediction fits your mood.  What do we actually know?

The answer to that last question is not much.  Climate science is getting better but there are still many unknowns involved and conditions change.  This is especially true since we are still trying to understand the effects that climate change is having on sea ice at the North Pole and the overall effect on ocean currents and the jet stream.  It is fairly safe to assume that the confluence of weather that led to a record wheat crop last year probably won’t happen again.  It is also probably safe to assume that conditions won’t deteriorate to the extent they did during the worst of the drought.  As we get closer to summer, forecasting should improve.  The question is what should producers do?

The answer is twofold.  Do everything possible to keep soil moisture and have it available for transpiration through the plants.  Next, cultural practices, ranging from hybrid selection and planting date to pest control and fertilizer should be designed for minimal plant stress with realistic yield goals. 

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