USDA’s forecast for $4.80 corn and $10.50 soybeans as an average price for the 2013-2014 marketing year may have shocked many people, as did the forecast for a 14.5 billion bushel corn crop and a 3.4 billion bushel soybean crop. Both of those were a function of acreage, which is yet to be seen, and weather, which the USDA expects to be normal. And that is no surprise, since the estimate of normal weather is a policy when USDA makes projections. But will the weather be normal? And what do we know about that right now? But another big question is what about the Mississippi River?

The weather for the 2013 growing season will be one of the more anticipated aspects of the season.The lack of influence (pdf) by either El Niño or La Niña leaves a great degree of uncertainty. Generally, El Niño will bring cooler and wetter weather for the Corn Belt and La Niña will bring warmer and drier weather. 2012 began as a function of La Niña in the spring and when the Equatorial sea surface temperatures warmed, La Niña faded away leaving the Corn Belt with neutral weather.

Neutral Weather for 2013

Neutral is what exists now in the Corn Belt and the Climate Prediction Center indicates that will last through fall 2013 at the least. There is no distinct trend toward an El Niño or a La Niña, as it would pertain to moisture. Spring will be warm, wet and early in the eastern Corn Belt says Indiana Climatologist Dev Niyogi, based on the Climate Prediction Center’s March to May outlook. But he is expecting more drought, and says, “This is expected to turn to some drying in the growing season, leading to mild to moderate drought conditions across Indiana.” The CPC forecast covered Wisconsin to Tennessee and east to Ohio. Drought recently has been eliminated in most of the eastern Corn Belt.

While the precipitation is undetermined, that leaves two concerns for Corn Belt farmers. One is having sufficient moisture to produce a crop that will cover operational costs, and crop insurance can help to some extent with that. The other concern is having enough water in the Mississippi River to maintain sufficient depths to transport grain to Gulf export terminals. That issue has been a significant challenge since November when flows from the Missouri River were restricted. But the question for the spring and summer will be whether there will be enough moisture in the Missouri River watershed to produce enough runoff for creeks, streams and tributaries to fill up the Missouri River, and provide water to the Mississippi.