Quentin Connealy is enjoying the uneventful weather of late winter. The Tekamah, Nebraska, farmer saw the nearby Missouri River flood his fields not once last growing season, but three different times, beginning with the bomb cyclone that hit on March 13, 2019.
“This year, so far, has been a 180-degree change,” Connealy told DTN.
As farmers in the Missouri River valley prepare for the 2020 growing season, those who saw major flooding issues last year prepare for the next crop with the optimism of a new spring. While the threat of flooding still is a possibility, those farming along the “Muddy Mo” hope the issues of 2019 are behind them.
THREE FLOODS IN ONE YEAR
A year ago March winter was still stubbornly hanging on with low temperatures, snowfall and frozen soils. When the bomb cyclone hit on March 13, rainfall melted most of the snowfall, causing small streams to flood as they attempted to flow into larger ones.
The result was extreme flooding from South Dakota to Missouri. Much of eastern Nebraska was under water with nearly every river flooding in the days after the extreme weather event.
Connealy said some of Burt County acres were actually hit by three different floods in 2019. The first was from the bomb cyclone in March, another one came in early June and the final one was in September.
He was able to plant all of his acres after the first flood, but his corn and soybean crops on about a third of acres were lost in the June flooding. Crops which survived the tough growing season ranged the full gambit from below average yields to above average, he said.
“After we had the flooding again in September, the weather was drier after that,” he said. “We had a normal fall, we were done harvesting by Thanksgiving and even tilled quite a few of our acres.”
DRIER CONDITIONS SEEN
Bryce Anderson, DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist, said 2020 for the Western Corn Belt has been quite a bit drier so far this year compared to 2019.
For the past 90 days through March 10, the western Midwest has had a total of 2 to 4 inches less precipitation than the same period a year. The past 30 days have seen a bigger difference, mostly 2 to 6 inches less than last year, he said.
Anderson said the temperatures have also been different. The week ending March 10 was 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a year ago.
The January-February period was above normal across the western Midwest in 2020. The entire region was below normal last year, he said.
“I am cautiously optimistic that field work will get going in a more timely fashion over the western Midwest than it did last year,” Anderson said.
Drier conditions late last fall and through the winter, along with milder temperatures, have allowed for more post-harvest work to be done in the Western Corn Belt, Anderson said. This has already given producers an advantage over last year, he said.
FALLOW SOIL SYNDROME?
The productivity of soils that were flooded is a major question after floods. Fallow field syndrome occurs when soils go without any plant growth for a prolonged period, causing microbes to die off and reducing soil nutrient availability to the subsequent crop.
John Wilson, who retired as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension Educator for Burt County at the beginning of the year after 42 years, said arbuscular mycorrhiza are tiny microorganisms found in the soil and grow on the roots of plants. Their main jobs are to aid in nutrient uptake in plants. Soil underwater for long periods lose these helpers, he said.
In the 2011 flood, the water came in and sat on fields for three to four months. The floods of 2019 came and went fairly quickly with water only sitting for shorter periods of time in this region, he said.
“So generally I don’t think we are going to see much issue with flooded soil syndrome in this growing season after the 2019 flood unlike we saw after the 2011 flood,” Wilson said.
Wilson said soil testing is always an important practice and could be especially important for flooded fields. If a crop was not harvested, the applied phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) from the prior years are likely still there, but checking the soil is still prudent, he said.
HOPEFUL FOR 2020
With the 2020 growing season starting out drier than the previous year, Connealy said he is fairly optimistic this year will be less challenging.
On his acres which did not produce a crop last year, he has had the soil sampled and the P and K he applied for the previous crop was still present in the soil. This will allow him to apply just nitrogen (N) for this year’s crop.
Spring planting could be right on schedule if the mild weather conditions continue through the spring.
“I’m a fairly optimistic person but I think we are all hopeful things will be different, especially with the weather so different this winter,” Connealy said.
However, he is also prepared in case the weather does change and too much moisture returns to the Missouri River valley again this year.
Russ Quinn can be reached at email@example.com
Source: Russ Quinn, DTN
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