PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 17:32 UK, 1st Jun 2011, by Agrimoney.com
Do farmers face repeat of 1983-style devastation?

La Nina may be dead, but that doesn't mean an end to the unusual weather patterns which have dogged the world's growers.

The US may continue to witness extremes rain to the north and drier and hotter weather to the south this summer, with Europe potentially facing a "historic drought", David Tolleris at WxRisk.com says.

Some observers have made comparisons, for US weather, with 1983 when, as Kim Rugel at Benson Quinn Commodities says, "Mother Nature shut off the spigot in late June after a wet spring delayed planting".

"That is possible. It certainly looks like we have had a shift to a warmer and drier pattern for a lot of states," Mr Tolleris said, while saying he expected Midwest temperatures to prove -fortunately - relatively cool in July and August, after hotting up this month.

Bad year 

Farmers might hope for that mercy, given what a repeat of 1983 would mean.

That year was dire for US agriculture. Soybean output tumbled by one quarter, on yields which fell to a seven-year low of 26.2 bushels per acre.

Corn production near-halved, as wet weather prevented farmers sowing plantings fell by 26% to 60,200 acres, is still the lowest on record with yield on what was seeded tumbling 28% to 81.1 bushels per acre.

"The trouble was that root systems used to rain every other day did not develop fit for the dry spell that followed. They were too shallow," Mr Tolleris said, adding that this year's switch from wet conditions for much of the Corn Belt to dry was hardly ideal either.

"What you need is occasional moisture, and we are not getting that at the moment."

Cool pool 

The climatalogical culprit this time is an area of cold water off in the eastern Pacific, which is driving rain fronts into North America, from where they are being directed across the continent by a jet stream, a narrow belt of fast moving air some 10km up in the atmosphere.

The shift of the jet stream north, "as it does every summer", has taken the wet weather north with it, ensuring miserable weather for spring wheat regions in the likes of North Dakota and Canada, but better conditions further south in much of the Midwest.

This picture may become complicated by interference from patterns over Greenland, turning the eastern section of the jet stream south, and sparing the likes of Ohio the "lot of heat" that looks set for states such as Nebraska, Missouri and further south.

'Brutal hot' 

For Europe, the issue is hotter water a "dramatic warming" of north eastern Atlantic ocean temperatures.

"This has prevented storms sweeping across into the UK and France and they normally do," Mr Tolleris said.

The warmer-than-normal sea temperatures, support a "big ridge" of high pressure over Western Europe, making for a dry and potentially "brutal hot" summer, especially early on.

A "significant rain event" forecast for Europe next week, dumping up to three inches of rain in parts of France before sweeping into Germany, is "very important" for bolstering crop prospects.

Heat and rain makes... 

Of course, this is only one interpretation of weather, although it does tally with some other forecasts, and even with an outlook on Wednesday from official Canadian meteorologists.

Environment Canada forecast a wetter-than-usual summer in the Prairies, following a cold wet spring, while seeing the opposite pattern on the east of the country.

Temperatures, however, look like being above normal throughout the country which could be taken as good news if, as the saying goes, heat and rain makes grain.

Heat on its own, though, is quite a different matter.

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