With planting just weeks away, producers are anxiously waiting and wondering if there will be enough soil moisture to get crops up and growing.

Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming each suffered more than $1 billion in drought-related ag losses last year. Most of the mid-continent went into winter with large moisture deficits, and precipitation so far this year has lagged behind normal.

“This past summer, fully 50% of the U.S. experienced drought,” says Pat Guinan, University of Missouri climatologist. “Dry years tend to come in clusters and the current drought may be a sign of what's expected.”

Moisture is needed throughout much of the Corn Belt, agrees Larry Acker, meteorologist-agronomist with 3F Forecasts, Polo, IL.

“My computers say there won't be enough to replenish subsoil before we start planting in some areas,” he predicts. “The spring period may be drier than normal from April 1 through May 9. Then we should get near-normal rainfall for more than a month.”

Each winter Acker sizes up weather prospects for the season and projects how that weather may impact corn, soybean and cotton crops.

“We see two elements that could be troublesome,” he says. “First, we expect spring and summer storms to be more scattered and erratic than usual. General storms that cover large areas of the country will not be very common. Secondly, we have an El Niño firmly in place and this should continue.”

Acker crafts his weather outlooks using a bank of historical weather data, plus assessment of current weather trends and developments. He pays close attention to oscillations in the oceans, especially in the eastern Pacific.

Along the equatorial Pacific, rising (El Niño) and dropping (La Niña) temperatures can exert a great deal of influence on the upper air currents (jet streams) that are weather makers across North America.

“The driest region in the Corn Belt proper appears to be east of a north-south line running through about Scottsbluff, NE, east to Columbus, OH,” he says. “June rainfall should be near normal in this region, with key storms from June 23 through about July 12. But the western U.S. will continue to be dry and hot as blazes.”

Acker explains that a Bermuda high-pressure system should show up in the Southeast in early July and stay around until well into September. “There won't be a lot of wind during this period, but the eastern U.S. and even Florida will burn up,” he says.

“The corn pollination and soybean pod-fill season will be rough on both crops,” Acker adds. “I look for planted corn acreage to be up somewhat, to about 79 million acres. If the rains are as light and spotty as we fear, the national average corn yield may be only 118 bu/acre, for a total production of 8.7 billion bushels. But don't be surprised to see some corn acreage abandoned before harvest, which will pull down the average even more.”

Soybeans in the country's midsection will also suffer.

“Parts of the South may initially be too wet, but soybean planting generally should be okay,” says Acker. “However, summer looks bad, because this is when soybeans need water to bloom and fill pods. If we plant 77 million acres of beans (with about 74 million harvested), we can expect a total production of 2.45 billion bushels, or an average yield of about 30 bu/acre. If spider mites, aphids and other pests appear in force, this forecast may be on the high side.”

Much of the cotton-growing region, Acker notes, is in fairly good shape as far as moisture is concerned.

“Some places are wet going into planting season, but that will change,” says Acker. “April looks to be quite dry, but May and June are about normal for rainfall in the western Cotton Belt. However, this period gets drier as we go east toward the Carolinas.”

He says weather cycles may change around July 21 to much drier and hotter conditions through early September, when rains should pick up again.

“Nobody is getting rich raising 50¢ cotton, but I expect about 12.5 million acres to be planted,” Acker concludes. “That size acreage should produce about 17.4 million bales.”

For more information, contact Acker at: 3F Forecasts, 1710 N. Summer Hill Rd., Polo, IL 61064. Phone: 815-946-3001; fax: 815-946-2003 or e-mail: Lacker@essex1.com.

How Is Acker's Track Record?

Larry Acker of 3F Forecasts, Polo, IL, has produced weather and crop projections for nearly a quarter century. We decided to check back a few years to see how closely 3F Forecasts have lined up with USDA's final production estimate.

Weather, Crop Projection Comparisons
3F Forecast* USDA Final Crop
Corn (billion bushels)
2000 8.45 9.92
2001 9.9 9.51
2002 9.57 9.01
Soybeans (billion bushels)
2000 2.55 2.76
2001 3.25 2.89+
2002 2.55 2.73
Cotton (million bales)
2000 15.8 17.2
2001 18.1 20.3
2002 19.8 17.1
*Forecast made nine-10 months before crop is harvested.