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A growing so-called heat dome in the Southeastern U.S. and up-and-down temperatures in the mostly soggy Midwest are the big weather stories to start the week. Though the warm temperatures and drier air will be a welcome shift away from what was the wettest August on record in some parts of the nation's center, the conditions are starting to stir more disease worries in soybeans and concerns that "harvest mud will prevail" in the coming weeks when the combines start rolling in the Corn Belt.Des Moines, Iowa, for example, saw just short of 11.5 inches of rain for August, making it the third-wettest August on record, according to Wayne Ellis, meteorologist with Freese-Notis Weather, Inc. Though rain is expected to continue through the early part of this week, it will ultimately unfold into a drier period in the longer-term with just a few thundershowers expected."A cool front moving through the northwest Corn Belt will develop more scattered thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow for roughly the southeast half of the region with .25- to 1.00-inch rain amounts, isolated heavier in a few spots. Otherwise, it looks mostly dry through midweek with a few widely scattered showers and thunderstorms in the west Wednesday and Thursday as warmer air returns to the region," Ellis said Tuesday. "Another cool front will cross the region Friday and Saturday from the west bringing more scattered showers and a few thunderstorms."Adds MDA Weather Services senior ag meteorologist Don Keeney: "Conditions should improve a bit by the weekend as drier weather finally returns. Additional rains in the southwestern Midwest next week will continue to slow corn drydown there."An MDA map shows a line from northwest South Dakota to eastern Kentucky has received anywhere from 148% to 234% of normal rainfall in the last six weeks. Outside of that area during that time frame, though, rainfall amounts have been lighter; in fact, parts of eastern Illinois, northeast Iowa, and southern Missouri received just around half the normal rain. That variety is reflected in farmers' reports."We had our wettest August that I can remember ever. Had 2.62 inches last night to round out the month with a 11.15-inch total. Our average for August is 4.13 inches.Field ponds are full again, tiles are running full blast," says Agriculture.com Marketing Talk senior contributor Wind, who farms in central Iowa. "A dry September will be needed, or harvest mud will prevail. Last year, we had our driest August at .18 inch for the month. This year was our wettest at 11.15 inches. Beans last year made 40 bushels per acre. This year, 50-plus."Adds Marketing Talk senior contributor Blacksandfarmer, who farms on the Michigan-Indiana state line: "We ended up with only .9 inch on my farm for the month of August. Soybeans on my farm will struggle to make a 35-bushel-an-acre average. Lots of empty bean pods blowing in the wind here today. Our August average is around 3.5 inches."Join the chat: Rainfall reports and a 'very wet August'In areas where it's been wettest, concerns are starting to grow for both the corn and soybean crops. For the former, it's all a matter of drydown capacity right now, and there's a premium on warm, dry air. For the former, it's more about disease."Several soybean diseases have popped up over the past several weeks across Iowa. While some diseases are quite severe in certain fields, others are only scattered problems in parts of the state," says Iowa State University plant pathologist Daren Mueller. "Regardless, it is important to scout and identify what diseases are present and to keep track of where the diseased spots are occurring in the field."See more: Sudden Death Syndrome Popping UpBrown stem rot, top dieback, downy mildew, frogeye leaf spot, and stem canker join Sudden Death Syndrom (SDS) as diseases that thrive in wet conditions like a large swath of the Corn Belt and mid-South. A lot of these diseases have symptoms in common, underscoring Mueller's call for comprehensive scouting if you see early signs they're hitting your fields."Other diseases seen in Iowa include Septoria brown spot and bacterial blight (both have been around for most of the growing season), soybean vein necrosis virus (SVNV) in southeast Iowa, and possibly soybean dwarf virus," he says. "Many soybean diseases have similar symptoms to other diseases."If you suspect any of these diseases but are having trouble specifically diagnosing them, Mueller recommends submitting plant tissue samples to your state's diagnostic laboratory.
There's growing talk in parts of the central U.S. that once the combines start to roll this fall, getting that crop transported to where it will be stored or marketed could be a challenge.However, the worries in the Plains and Corn Belt pale in comparison to the logistical hurdles farmers in parts of Brazil face in getting their crop moved to market. It's led specialists to renew their focus on crop losses incurred between the combine and terminal. The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois is one such think-tank for the establishment and implementation of "economically viable technologies, practices, and systems that reduce postharvest loss in staple crops such as corn, wheat, and oilseeds."Logistics and infrastructure have long been a problem for Brazilian farmers, and as that country's crop land and production increases, it's only taxing the nation's dirt roads and rural highways further. That's been a big driver of as much as a 12% postharvest loss of grain because of simple transportation problems, namely because of a combination of that poor infrastructure and farmers' rush to get their crops harvested and to market. That hustle is made worse by the fact that farmers plant, manage, and harvest not one, but two crops in Brazil each year."Clearly there are things that you can do to reduce loss -- you can put bed liners in trucks, you can adjust your combine, you can harvest more slowly -- but for the farmers in Mato Grosso, it’s not a high priority," says University of Illinois ag economist Peter Goldsmith in a university report. "It doesn't seem rational. If you see soybeans bouncing off your windshield from the truck ahead of you and bands of soybeans along the berm, why wouldn't you try to prevent it? It appears that farm managers in Brazil actually allow loss to happen because the cost of reducing loss is greater than the benefits."Goldsmith, long a student of Brazilian agriculture, works with the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Losses to create practical, easy-to-implement solutions, but more importantly, to foster understanding among farmers and farm managers in regions like Mato Grosso; by making a few key adjustments in those areas, crop income can rise by a considerable amount."Because they are in such a hurry to get the soybean crop harvested so they can get the maize crop planted before the rainy season, they may: harvest too fast, desiccate green soybean to advance harvest, or expose soybean to the weather during transport, all of which results in a 10% loss. The loss isn’t intentional but rather a level that the farm manager is willing to live with in order to get that second crop of corn," Goldsmith says. "When a farmer doesn’t think that harvest speed is important, they have more loss. Likewise, if a farmer doesn't think that combine adjustments are important, they'll have more loss. Those who realize that maintaining equipment is important have less loss. Consequently, technical training in the field with the equipment could be beneficial. But the cost of reducing loss further, using current technology, may exceed the benefits. Farmers may be unwilling to pay or invest in loss reduction."Factors contributing to postharvest loss that Goldsmith and other specialists are honing in on for farmers in Brazil include:Insect and rodent damageCombine speedsTruck conditionsRoad maintenanceGoldsmith points out that while these may be obvious factors to consider to U.S. farmers, both a general lack of education and the growing rush to get the crop from the field to the marketplace tend to keep them in the back of Brazilian farmers' minds."Why wouldn’t farmers have agreed 100% that harvest speed contributes to loss? Insects and rodents seemed to be unimportant. Truck conditions and bad weather were the top factors to blame for loss, but truck conditions were mentioned by only 62%. These causes should be common knowledge, so I don’t know why 100% of the responses didn’t agree that, for example, poor road and truck conditions contribute to loss," he says. "The lack of definitiveness about this may indicate that loss is not a front-of-mind issue for managers, which, in turn, has significant implications for policy makers seeking to reduce postharvest loss."We may think of Brazil as sunshine and beautiful all the time, but farming is really tough in the tropics. There are pest pressures 24/7, soils are poor, there’s an extreme rainy season, the distance to markets is great, and road conditions are very rough. All sorts of factors make farming tough, but this area of the world has the greatest potential to materially augment global grain supplies," Goldsmith adds.Though these issues have major implications for farmer profitability in Brazil right now, there are also more global implications, both to the grain marketplace and issues well beyond the farm gate. And, how these issues are addressed will go a long way in establishing Brazilian farmers' roles in the global grain market down the road."This dominant class of medium- and large-tropical farm acreage operators who are producing most of the new grains are filling the gap between where we are now and where we need to be in 2050 to feed the world," Goldsmith says in a university report. "Sure, we can expand our crop among the developed countries of the world, but we’re only helping at the margin. The potential for new grain producers on new land is coming from farmers in the Southern Hemisphere."
John Steinbeck and Sonora Babb painted vivid pictures of the Dust Bowl in their novels The Grapes of Wrath and Whose Names Are Unknown. The stories showed the migration of impoverished farmers west from the Great Plains to California, where some found work and others found more pain in the orchards and fields of the Golden State. Now, eight decades later, Mother Nature has flipped the script and has sharply depleted the water supply of the nation's top agriculture state just like she did in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and other Plains states in the 1930s. Now, California's agriculture and population in general is in danger of massive losses because of a years-long drought. The drought is yet to cause a human exodus like it did in the Plains during the Dust Bowl, but it is already causing massive cuts in crop and livestock production in the nation's largest agriculture state. California's agriculture is the most diverse in the U.S. in terms of the number of crops grown. With dramatic cuts in production because of the drought, many expect prices for many products to skyrocket as supplies dwindle. As of midsummer, NOAA data showed 100% of the state's hay, cattle, and winter wheat crops, for example, were seeing production cutbacks because of the drought; almost 60% of the state's winter wheat was under "exceptional" drought, and 58% of the state's area where cattle are raised was in the same category. That's expected to cause major cuts in the state's cattle herd, which has been around 5.3 million head in the last 2 years. Total crop area in the state has already been sharply reduced; in 2012, just shy of 4.4 million acres were planted to "principal crops," according to USDA-NASS. This year, NASS shows 3.58 million acres planted.While the dryness that gripped the nation's center two years ago has largely abated, the drought has only intensified in California and neighboring states; Nevada is, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 100% under some form of drought, while 99.8% of California is in the same condition. Of the latter state, 23% is in the worst category -- "exceptional" -- of drought, according to a report from the California-Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP) administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS).Graphic courtesy U.S. Drought MonitorDrought is nothing new to California, though. A CNAP report shows there's a water shortage -- though not as severe as the one underway right now -- in the state about three times a decade. And, research shows there have even been "megadroughts," or those that last as long as 100 years, in the past. More research is being conducted right now to determine what conditions could trigger another of these massive dry spells in the future."The year 1977 is often used as a model of extreme dryness in California. Statewide accumulation in water years 1974-77 was 45 inches statewide, compared to an average of 70 inches," according to a CNAP report. "The three-water year period of 2011-14 has less accumulated precipitation than the period 1974-77, and so sets a new record for low three-year statewide precipitation accumulation totals in the historical record."Precipitation is surprisingly just one piece of the California drought puzzle. On top of consecutive years with sharply below-normal rainfall, there's been an atmospheric angle, one in which the adjacent Pacific Ocean has played a role."The immediate cause of California’s 2014 drought can be traced to the altered route of atmospheric water vapor, which is necessary for strong winter precipitation in the state. Ordinarily, water evaporates from the ocean in the warm Tropical Pacific Ocean and winds carry that water vapor to the U.S. West Coast," according to a CNAP report. "However, in 2014 the water vapor transport split into two branches and ended up going either north or south of California. Why did the water vapor diverge from its usual route across the Pacific? One reason was the presence of a 'ridge' of high atmospheric pressures off the northwest coast of North America. This ridge steered water vapor away from California." Last spring, climatologists reached agreement that El Niño was making a comeback. When the Southern Oscillation Index swings away from La Niña and toward El Niño, that typically means more moisture for the West Coast of the U.S. So, will that do much to ease the Golden State drought if El Niño does return? The short answer is: It depends."El Niño typically brings wetter-than-normal conditions to much of the southern half of California and the interior Southwestern U.S. As the summer of 2014 progressed, it looked likely that any El Niño that formed would be relatively mild," according to a CNAP report. "There is a severe deficit, which manifests in low reservoir levels and dry soil, with attendant hardships on farmers and other users. The heavy precipitation needed to erase the current drought has historically only been seen during particularly strong El Niños, but even then it is not guaranteed; some strong events have near-normal precipitation. Precipitation in the northern parts of the state are less affected by El Niño than the South Coast drainage. Overall, records suggest that if an El Niño develops, only a strong event is likely to have a chance of erasing the current drought."A report by CNAP researcher Mike Dettinger outlines the likelihood that El Niño will alter current drought conditions, and the numbers aren't pretty."Any way you dice it, we are still going to end up about 10 inches short of where we should be as a state. Looking only at El Niño (presumably wet) years, [research] shows there is a 21% chance we won’t even get to fill in the hold from water year 2013/2014," according to a CNAP blog post outlining Dettinger's research. "And we see the 8% chance that we might fill in the hole and get back to normal."Looking ahead through fall, the chances of the drought easing in California are slim. According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, an area stretching from the eastern half of Nevada to western Kansas, south to west Texas and north to the Canadian border has chances for "above-normal precipitation." On top of the Golden State's exclusion from that area, temperatures are expected to be above-normal as well, according to NOAA Climate Prediction Center meteorologist David Miskus. This adds up to the likelihood that the drought will "persist or intensify" through late fall and early winter.More California Drought stories & features from around the WebCalifornia drought eases but only in desert, weekly report indicatesPublished: 8/28/2014On Assignment: Focusing on the effects of California's persistent drought Severe drought conditions are evident as hundreds of houseboats are dwarfed by steep banks that show the water level down 160 feet from the high water mark at Bidwell Canyon Marina on Lake Oroville in June. Officials say that Lake Oroville is only at 43% of capacity.California Drought Brings On A Downpour Of PseudosciencePublished: 8/29/2014August 27, 2014 // 06:15 PM EST A dowser, dowsing. Image/ Wikimedia Across drought-stricken California, farmers, vintners, and plenty of others are desperate for water. The phenomenon is nothing new, of course, as humans have a long, weird history of trying to conjure water out of the ether through mystic or technic means.Porterville Residents Without Water As Wells Go Dry During California DroughtPublished: 8/27/2014PORTERVILLE (CBS13) — Hundreds of people in a California town have no water after wells ran dry during the state’s drought. The small town of Porterville in Tulare County has about 7,300 residents, and at least 300 homes have been without water for weeks. My kids had to wear dirty clothes to school this morning,” said Elizabeth Baker.California Drought Portrait: Our Shrinking ReservoirsPublished: 8/26/2014It’s no surprise, really: Water levels in California’s reservoirs continue to drop as the thirsty state waits for the first sign of fall rains. Last week, Getty Images photographer Justin Sullivan took an aerial tour of some of the reservoirs, including Lake Oroville. For instance, as recently as April 2013, Lake Oroville was roughly 90 percent full.How Serious Is The California Drought?Published: 8/25/2014Rising rates would hurt bonds and equities but would support gold. This was clearly seen in the 1970s when rising interest rates corresponded with rising gold prices. Gold becomes vulnerable towards...California Drought: Wells Literally Running Dry In One Central Valley CommunityPublished: 8/27/2014Like most journalists in Northern California, Rebecca Corral has been. For residents of the Central Valley community of East Porterville, many of whom use private wells as their source of water, thesituation is decidedly dire. “In this particular community, the wells are running dry,” said Denise England, a senior administrative analyst with the Tulare County Water Resources Department.California Drought: Devastating Photos Show Lakes Drying UpPublished: 8/25/2014As California closes out its eighth month of a drought State of Emergency, effects of the water shortage are being felt across the state. Hundreds of residents in rural San Joaquin Valley have become the first Californians to run out of tap waterCalifornia drought stressing bees, keepersPublished: 8/25/2014– California’s record drought hasn’t been sweet to honeybees, and it’s creating a sticky situation for beekeepers and honey buyers. Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought, and it does impact our bottom line as a business, said Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in Los Banos, a farming town in California’s Central Valley.California drought driving food prices higherPublished: 8/22/2014How high will food prices go?"How serious is California drought? Check out these before & after pictures, taken only 3 years apart."Published: 8/22/2014Worst drought in recorded history in California. "And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden Meanwhile: California couple conserving water amid drought could face [ ].