With flooding already underway in parts of the eastern Corn Belt, and new flooding likely ahead for the northwestern Corn Belt, it makes you wonder about the need for drought-tolerant corn hybrids. However, if current La Niña weather patterns fail to fade soon, dry weather may be on its way to major corn growing areas later in the season, says Drew Lerner, meteorologist and owner, World Weather Inc.

“There’s been a lot of speculation that La Niña will last through summer and into next year,” says Lerner. “I happen to be in that camp, although I think the event should weaken considerably.”

Yet, even if the current La Niña weather system fades by June, its impact could still cause a slightly drier-than-normal weather bias for the southeastern U.S. early in summer that might then move into northwestern Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota by late July and August, says Lerner. “The quicker La Niña leaves us, the less likely that significant dryness would come from La Niña that could threaten yields,” says Lerner. “The longer La Niña sticks around, the greater the odds will be for notably lower rainfall and possibly lower yields.”

In the meantime, March and April weather systems “will probably bring on a returning risk of flooding for the eastern Midwest and a new risk for the western side of the Mississippi River,” says Lerner. “Initially, the flooding will occur in Canada and the Northern Plains. Later, flooding would extend into the Middle Mississippi River basins.

“In particular, the Mississippi would push a lot of river water flooding into eastern Iowa, western Illinois and eastern Missouri, but those areas are probably also going to have wet weather of their own,” he adds. “Still, the flooding may not occur as expected.”

Much still depends on both day and nighttime temperatures as to how quickly northern snow packs melt, he points out. How much rainfall occurs in the region from now through early April will also make a big difference on flood potential, he adds.

“Predicting how bad flooding will be is still pretty tough to do, but we know the ground is saturated and there are some impressive snow depths in the Upper Midwest and Canada,” says Lerner. “The longer it takes to melt the snow, and the flooding threat extends further into April, the more worries of delayed planting there will be.”

Soils may become too saturated in many places this spring to allow for timely field work and planting. However, farmers who become too impatient and either work or plant in wet soils could cause damage to the seedbed that will reduce the corn plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients if summer weather turns dry, points out Bill Wiebold, University of Missouri Extension corn agronomist.

If corn farmers face both a delayed start to planting and a dry summer due to a lasting La Niña, it will be interesting to see how well this year’s new drought-tolerant hybrids perform compared to other hybrids without drought-tolerant traits. Corn growers might want to try a few bags and see if there’s any yield difference, especially if this summer weather turns dry. On the other hand, La Niña may fade early, or dry weather might not develop. If that’s the case, yields might be better from non-drought-tolerant hybrids than those that are drought tolerant.

Either way, here’s wishing a prosperous corn-growing season to all.

Whether you agree or disagree about the potential outlook for floods and/or drought this year or about the potential usefulness of drought-tolerant corn hybrids, I’d be happy to consider your opinion. When writing, please let me know your name, where you farm or work, what your comment is and whether or not I have permission to use your comment in a future Corn E-Digest newsletter.

You can contact me (John Pocock) at: john.pocock@penton.com. You're also welcome to write to me if you have concerns or questions about this newsletter or if you have ideas on topics you’d like to see me write about for future issues. I look forward to hearing from you.