We hope you're ready to hear a little good weather news for a change.

A friendlier growing season should be welcome, especially by western Corn Belt producers who have battled a pernicious drought the past few seasons.

“From about central Iowa and Missouri west, there's not a lot of moisture reserve going into the planting season,” says Pat Guinan, University of Missouri atmospheric scientist. “But we could make up that deficit by late spring — May or early June.”

Larry Acker, of 3F Forecasts, Polo, IL, agrees. Acker, who also grows corn and soybeans, expects spring to be a bit wetter than normal in most areas with more wind and warmer temperatures. His long-range outlooks call for average to above-average spring and summer rainfall across virtually all of the corn- and soybean-growing region.

“However, storms will continue to be scattered and erratic; the major storm cycle that began in July 1999 is still in play,” says Acker. “Secondly, we have an El Niño starting to build. It will gradually increase in intensity, but shouldn't have much influence on weather during the 2004 spring and summer seasons.

“We should get a three-week dry period from about April 19 to May 11,” Acker adds. “With strong winds, soils should dry quickly. I'd expect most growers to have corn planted by May 11. Rains will resume — heavy in some areas — from mid-May through mid-June.

That dry, windy period in late April and early May should let producers get most of the main-crop soybeans in the ground in timely fashion, too.

“This will be a good year for beans,” predicts Acker. “Soybeans should be planted early and have ample moisture through most of summer. We expect the hottest part of summer to hit about July 17-25, when winds will quiet down some. But we're looking for good rains in August that will not only water the crop, but should help curb any outbreaks of soybean aphids and spider mites.”

If spring and summer weather materializes as Acker forecasts, we could have bin-busting crops of both corn and soybeans.

“I look for corn acreage to be up somewhat; close to 80 million acres planted,” he says. “That would make a harvested crop of about 74 million acres. That size acreage and the weather we expect should produce an all-time-record corn crop of 10.275 billion bushels; bigger than 2003's record 10.1 billion bushels.”

With more acres planted to corn, Acker estimates soybeans at about 76.5 million acres. That would make a harvested crop of about 73 million acres. “We still may produce a record bean crop,” he says. “If soybeans are planted early and we see no big effects from soybean rust, I look for 3.1 billion bushels of soybeans to be harvested. The favorable weather through most of August will make this crop. In fact, where I have a choice between growing corn or soybeans, I'm planting beans.”

Across the South, many cotton fields are going into spring low on moisture.

“Moisture will remain behind until the second week in May, when rainfall patterns gradually increase to above normal,” says Acker. “June should continue wetter than normal, which will hinder cotton planting and other fieldwork in many areas. Winds will pick up in early June and we could see some early tornadoes. But from May 10 on there should be plenty of moisture in most areas. July looks to be wetter than normal and most of September should also be wet.

“If cotton growers can get planting done on time, I expect 13 million acres to be planted,” he adds. “Even with part of the Cotton Belt soggy, we should see a decent crop of about 19.3 million bales. And with a weaker U.S. dollar, there should be enough demand to use up every bit of cotton production.”

Acker publishes a forecast newsletter regularly throughout the year, with periodic updates and hotlines. For more information, contact him at 3F Forecasts, 1710 N. Summer Hill Road, Polo, IL 61064, phone: 815-946-3001, fax: 815-946-2003 or e-mail: lacker@essex1.com.