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
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
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
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
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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,
"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
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.
[By JAN YOUNGQUIST]
You can find the latest details on soil temperature and moisture
on the National Weather Service site.