Planting 2020: What Does Mother Nature Have in Store
for Us?

Read Time: 5 minutes

by John Mioduszewski, Environmental Data Scientist, Bayer Crop Science 

April 3, 2020


Coming out of a rain-soaked 2019 and the resulting delays in planting, it’s hard not to turn our attention to what the skies have in store for us this year. 

As a climate researcher, forecasting the weather and planning for its potential impact is a personal passion. Over the past few years, I’ve produced a series of monthly weather and crop reports to help my colleagues in the Bayer plant breeding organization as they work to develop new, advanced corn hybrids and soy varieties. Now, I’m happy to have the opportunity to share my early season weather outlook with you, including key things to watch for in the 2020 planting season.  

The Impact Soil Moisture Feedback Will Have on the 2020 Planting Season

Not only was it an extremely wet spring last year, it continued to be very wet in much of the Midwest through the fall, and in some places even through the winter. All of the moisture that remains in the soil, creating feedback to the atmosphere. When there’s more water on the surface, there's more to evaporate, and — of course — to return to the surface as precipitation. So as much as many of us want to forget about last year, the atmosphere doesn’t. However, we’re starting to see soils dry out now, especially in parts of the southern and eastern Corn Belt due to a fairly warm winter and early spring, as well as below-average precipitation in the last month or two. Conditions look best in Ohio and parts of Indiana right now, but the remainder of the Corn Belt, and especially the upper Midwest, remains extremely wet, similar to last year.

Precipitation departures from average through the fall and winter. (Source: NOAA) 

Soil moistures are well above average throughout large parts of the southern states and the Midwest. (Source: NOAA) 

What these conditions suggest, along with recent trends toward wetter springs in the Midwest, is to expect above average rainfall over a large part of the region this spring. However, it’s unlikely to be as wet as it was last year, which was truly historic. In April you will likely have some opportunities to get into the field. As we head into the northern parts of the Corn Belt — the Northern Plains and upper Midwest — the winter was not as mild. So the usual snowmelt and soil thawing processes still need to occur, and will be taxing on river systems and their floodplains where the water is already high. But there’s still time for planting conditions to improve as we get into late April and May. In the near term, the guidance for warmer and wetter weather is not as strong for folks in the upper Midwest and Plains as it is farther south and east. 

“What these conditions suggest, along with recent trends toward wetter springs in the Midwest, is to expect above average rainfall over a large part of the region this spring.”

Temperatures are Looking Up for the Spring Planting Season 

Temperatures east of the Rockies are likely to continue to be above average overall for near-term planting, especially in the South and the Southeast. The onset of spring advanced a couple weeks ahead of normal in the South with warmer-than-average temperatures, and continues mostly ahead of schedule through the Ohio River Valley. Additionally, we are not seeing signs of a sustained cool or cold outbreak or prolonged winter that we've had in the last couple of years. So, overall, spring is looking warmer and that means there's the possibility of a longer planting season this year. Farmers might be able to get into the fields earlier — and if they can’t get in early, it is likely there will be opportunities after April and early May to get seed into the ground. Either way, warmer temperatures will help to dry out the soil more quickly and get fields ready for planting, which is a major difference from last year’s cool spring. 

Expect April temperatures to be above average in the areas highlighted in orange and red. (Source: NOAA) 
“So, overall, spring is looking warmer and that means there's the possibility of a longer planting season this year.”
Expect April precipitation to be above average in the areas highlighted in green. (Source: NOAA) 

What About El Niño, La Niña or Other Major Weather Forcings? 

You’ll often hear El Niño brought up in seasonal forecasts, because it is probably the strongest forcing on medium to long range weather — especially in the mid-latitudes of the United States. El Niño refers to the warming phase of the waters in the central and eastern Pacific near the Equator. Occasionally, you’ll also hear about La Niña, which is the opposite phase of the same oscillation — a temporary cooling of those waters. As a result, they tend to have very different effects on U.S. weather. In the Midwest, it is usually beneficial to have an El Niño during the summer, which tends to keep the temperature cooler and reduces heat stress on crops. This year, we’ll be in the neutral phase of this oscillation throughout the summer so we won’t see much of an impact.

In a more general sense, much of the Corn Belt has been getting warmer in recent decades, especially the nighttime temperatures during the summer. The warmer temperatures sometimes give farmers an opportunity to start planting sooner — even as much as a few weeks sooner in some places. When those windows of opportunities come, it’s often beneficial to take advantage of them. This helps the more vulnerable growth stages of your crop avoid the extreme heat of midsummer, which is also coming sooner on average. 

Most of the country experienced above average temperatures this winter. (Source: NOAA) 

Trusted Resources to Keep an Eye on the Weather 

I want to also share a few helpful resources and tools for keeping tabs on the weather as it relates to agriculture: 

  • Midwest Regional Climate Center - This service provides accurate weather data and regional weather information across the Midwestern states. 
  • Climate FieldView™ - If you have your fields mapped in FieldView, you can access field-level precipitation data, historic precipitation, as well as the upcoming forecast from your desktop, phone or iPad®.  
  • USDA Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin - The USDA’s weekly report for weather and crop updates.
  • NOAA - The National Weather Service falls under NOAA and is a great source for historical weather data, weekly forecasts, as well as weather safety and education information. 

I hope everyone has a safe and productive planting season — best of luck to all! 

About the Author

John Mioduszewski is an environmental data scientist at Bayer Crop Science, working at the intersection of weather data and plant breeding. Prior to joining Bayer, John was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin – Madison studying Arctic climate change. John holds a PhD from Rutgers University and a bachelor’s from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.