Today's feature from the LDN Spring FARM OUTLOOK

Here's your peek at the weather, and a little 'dirt' talk

By Jan Youngquist

Send a link to a friend  Share

[April 11, 2014]  Doesn't this past winter beat all? More snow over the entire season than anyone can remember, and yet, drought persists!

Yes, drought is still dogging us after all that snow and other wintry precipitation we put up with all this winter. According to the National Weather Service, drought conditions improved slowly over the winter season. However, moderate drought (D1) conditions extend from southern Scott and Morgan counties northeastward into southern McLean and western Champaign counties.

If you remember, we had those warmer days in late February (just above freezing) and a storm that brought a significant amount of precipitation. In only a couple of days, the accumulated snow melted off. A deeper-than-normal frost barrier prevented ground penetration. Widespread field flooding was the result, which ran off into streams and rivers. Bye-bye to some more valuable soil.

Cold this year? Yes. It wasn't just the winter whiners complaining this year; everyone was talking about it long before winter's end.

And, right they were. The NWS confirmed Lincoln had its coldest winter since record keeping began in 1905. The mean daily temperature of 20.6 degrees F beat the former record of 20.9 set in 1977-78.

Snowfall amounts were also record-setting. As of March 5, with a measurable snow in the forecast, Lincoln was looking at likely breaking its record amount of 45 inches set in 1981-82. Already 44.0 inches had been recorded against the normal average of 18.9 inches.

Well, with early March offering a few daytime temps well above freezing, we might hope for more ground thaw and gentler precipitation for more penetration to raise the still slightly low soil moisture and groundwater reserves.

This spring, when addressing the agriculture community on the impacts of weather on soil, expert Dr. Jerry Hatfield of the Agricultural Research Service emphasized the importance of soil management.

Looking at trends, Hatfield said the expectation is that extreme weather variations will continue. In the last few growing seasons, we’ve seen some extreme weather events: no rain for a long period of time; extremely high temperatures; long periods of high temperatures, with night temperatures staying above the crop needs for a daily cool time; heavy rains over exposed surfaces, washing away valuable soils; insufficient to no rain during critical pollination periods; too wet to get into fields; and more.

Hatfield said that our climates are changing, and farming practices need to change in response.

The long-range outlook is much the same as the trend we've been seeing for the past few years. Springs are expected to be wetter and summers hot and dry. There is also the expectation that the extremes of big storms that dump a lot of water at once would continue.

For all these reasons, Hatfield urges farmers to evaluate their farming practices and strive to protect and build up their soils with organic matter. The presence of organic matter increases the water-holding capacity of soils.

One of the setbacks of the current wet spring trend is a reduced number of planting days. It isn't your imagination that there is more to do and less time to do it. On average, there are now 3.7 fewer days to get in the field. It has come down to four days in a six-week window of opportunity for planting in many areas, Hatfield said.

[to top of second column]

As a side note, Hatfield cautions farmers to consider how they cope with new weather-related issues such as the limited days to get into the fields. By way of example, he points out that the use of larger planting equipment can create soil compaction.

Heavy storm events have increased, and with more heavy rainfall, more erosion.

"If we are going to handle some of these variations, we're going to need to improve our soils," Hatfield says. "Improving our soils is going to pay big dividends."

Hatfield drove home his point on the long-term benefits of conservation agriculture, saying that in test plots with no-till, strip-till and conventional-till, no-till has consistently shown highest yields in wet years and in dry years. He added: "But for different mechanisms."

No-till practices:

  • Increase a soil's water-holding capacity through improved organic matter content.

  • Increase water availability.

  • Increase rooting depth "because we're changing structure, more stable aggregates."

Hatfield also recommends the use of cover crops to improve soil organic matter and conserve water. Cover crops continually feed soil biology, maintain soil surface, moderate microclimate soil surface, provide residue and make advantageous use of light rainfalls by means of roots near surface that take up water.

Hatfield likes this farming adage about weather: "We plan for the climate, but we live with the weather."

He says, "Be prepared for extremes!"

According to the Farmers' Almanac, a cool spring is in store for the Midwest. This year’s edition forecasts a few days of unusually cold temperatures offset by a few above average, but most days will see temperatures nearest to the freezing mark, bringing variable bouts of showers and snow showers marked by very few days of sunshine through the end of April.


You can find the latest details on soil temperature and moisture on the National Weather Service site.

< Recent articles

Back to top