ISU specialists predict moderate drought for farmers this year

Erin Holmes

As the planting season approaches, farmers are becoming aware of the possibility of a drought occurring.

“There is quite a concern in dryness,” said Paul Kassel, crop field specialist for ISU Extension. “We’re pretty concerned because we’ve had probably an inch and a half in the last eight months.”

However, the moisture levels are not set in stone, Taylor said.

“April 15 is when the weather patterns start to settle down; any idea before that is just an idea,” Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor said.

There is still an ample amount of time for the soil to take in moisture, Kassel said.

“There are plenty of windows for opportunities to receive rainfall,” he said. There are roughly five weeks before the planting season will begin.

Although the soil conditions are dry, the crop conditions and season outlook are not as bleak as they may seem, Taylor said.

“[The state is in the] driest half of all years, but not in the driest third,” he said.

Taylor said the warmer winter weather this year sparked at least one positive result.

“All the moisture went to the soil because for the majority of the winter, [the soil] was not frozen,” he said.

When trying to determine whether a drought will occur, several factors need to be taken into account, Taylor said. Weather in other parts of the world can be examined to predict what North America’s dry season will be like. For example, Taylor said Brazil is in its dry season, and it is not currently experiencing a drought.

The effects of La Ni¤a also need to be contemplated, Taylor said. During La Ni¤a, the drought chances are higher, but Taylor said there are signs of it ending right now.

Past weather cycles come into play as well, Taylor said. A dry-wet cycle discovered in 1885 by the agricultural company Farmer Benner prompted a different outlook at the patterns of droughts.

Instead of looking for a drought to occur once every six years, farmers should instead expect three droughts to occur every 18 years. The cycle indicates two harsh droughts to occur in a six-year time period and one moderate drought to occur in a 12-year period.

“The 1934 Dust Bowl was forecasted in this cycle,” Taylor said. “[The pattern] hasn’t been wrong in 200 years. From 1992 to 2004, it shows one moderate drought, and we’re in that right now.”

Taylor said the best plan for farmers right now is to look at their high-performance crops and evaluate what is working.

“Don’t abandon your successful program,” he said. “Just modify it a little.”