Renewable Farming

Best forecast sources I’ve found for farming through wild weather variability

My favorite weather website is Weather Underground. Its 10-day forecast displays a full-page linear chart predicting temperature, precipitation, wind speeds and other details you can see at a single glance.

February 3, 2021  By Jerry Carlson — I keep the 10-day forecast bookmarked on my computer. A second valuable feature is its Wundermap, which shows you high-resolution radar images. With its sequential motion option, you can see if you have time to go another round with the planter before an incoming rain.

I maintain links to several weather forecast sites, but rely most on Weather Underground for its clarity and accuracy. It has ads, but they’re not distracting. Your can customize the page so it always open to your zip code.

Another of my favorite weather sites is, which provides no forecasts but presents a global view of precipitation, snow cover, winds, temperature and a wide array of other current data. Worldwide wind patterns from the surface up to about 6 miles are very revealing. 

Midwest farmers will need the best available weather casts in coming years — if the trend toward wetter springs and drier summers persists. Weather data show that growing season rainstorms are more violent, calling on farmers to build soil structures that can sponge up rain rapidly. 

Jerry Hatfield, former head of the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, describes the challenge of farming amid weather extremes in an excellent Strip-Till Farming article at this link. Hatfield points out that growing seasons in most of the central Corn Belt, other than Wisconsin, have shifted toward wetter Springs and prolonged Summer dry weeks.

Another trend: Rainstorms are fewer but more violent, which means soil management needs to emphasize soil conditions that protect against runoff erosion and sponge up four or five inches of rain an hour. 

Hatfield encourages farmers to manage soils for rapid rainfall infiltration. That calls for practices like cover crops, removal of any density layer or plow pan, and a greater abundance of live organisms in the soil. I remember walking with Hatfield through 30-inch soybean rows in Illinois one August day. The canopy was closed; soybeans reached almost to our belt buckles. Hatfield told me: “Almost half of the total biomass in these beans comes from carbon dioxide released by soil organisms.” 

Hatfield’s comment was memorable. It explained one more reason for the crop-producing power of the living soil food web.

Crop consultant Dr. Michael McNeill dramatizes rain infiltration with on-farm demonstrations for farmer clients. He taps a large drain pipe a few inches deep into topsoil in a field, leaving a foot or two above the ground. He fills the pipe with water and measures how fast the column of water soaks into soil. Usually there’s a huge difference in absorption rate between fencerow soils and cultivated fields.

Here at Renewable Farming, we’re studying bacteria and fungal species chosen by a Spokane firm, Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST). The microbes are “endophytes,” meaning that they live within your crop, between plant cells. They have unique abilities to transfer stress resistance to their host plants. With a decade of field testing, AST scientists are showing clear evidence these microbes help crops manage stress from weather that’s too wet, too cold, or too dry. Please visit the AST site. Also, watch our website for more detailed information on this state-of-the-art biological concept.

Historically, long-term warming cycles have been beneficial for agriculture. Warm epochs also favor economic gains as well as peace among nations. It’s the long cold cycles which lead to multinational conflicts and hunger. I’ve been a “student” of climate change for about 50 years, which is long enough for substantial shifts in seasonal patterns due to cyclical influences. Decades ago, I wrote a small small book titled, Farming with Tomorrow’s Wild Weather, on contract with Amchem. The book is still listed by but out of print.  

In the mid-1970s, the scientific conjecture on climate pointed to global cooling. I wrote a feature for Pro Farmer on that subject, visiting senior climatologist Reid Bryson at the University of Wisconsin for evidence. Bryson’s 1979 book, Climates of Hunger, is still very relevant to today’s “settled science” on climate change. But of course, the only narrative today is the existential threat of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As recently as 2010 and 2015, a large swath of climatologists were quoted in news reports warning of impending shorter growing seasons and global hunger. Fox News’ May 19, 2010 analysis by Gene Koprowski is an example. The current sanitizing of global cooling data by Wikipedia vigorously brushes off the global cooling cycle as “conjecture.” Amazon sells several well-researched books on the threat of global cooling. One that’s particularly well-documented is by author Shigenori Maruyama

For years, one of my favorite climatologist sources was Iben Browning, who in 1975 published Climate and the Affairs of Men  (a politically incorrect title for today’s intellectual climate). Browning and co-author Nels Winkles trace the course of earth’s climate over eons. Much of Browning’s historic climate analysis has been verified by NOAA research in the half-century since he assembled his data. Amazon lists Browning’s book for $52. Hurry, only one copy left. 

Iben Browning’s exceptional climate knowledge base has been reinforced for 40 years by his daughter, Dr. Evelyn Browning Garriss and co-editor James Garriss. Their monthly 8-page publication, the Browning World Climate Bulletin, is (in my opinion) the most thorough and educational source of seasonal trends in how weather impacts global agriculture. The online edition is $295 per year. It’s worth it — if you’re willing to tackle a steep learning curve. You’ll be advised about seasonal impacts of weather in major ag regions of the world. Browning was among the few who carefully documented last summer’s disastrous flooding in China’s major crop areas. Those crop losses are adding momentum to China’s current record buys of U.S. corn, soybeans, wheat and grain sorghum.

Source: Smithsonian Institution, Climate Depot Website

A website which continually challenges climate-change followers with frustrating facts is Climate Depot, a creation of Mike Morano. He regularly cites sources such as NOAA and the Smithsonian showing that really long-term climate change — millions of years — has varied massively. That was a bit before our Industrial Age. In the nearby chart of average global temperature, note that through the past 500 million years, average global temperatures have repeatedly risen into the 70- to 90-F. range, which warmed both polar regions enough to prevent formation of polar ice caps. 

The blip on the right end of the chart shows a rise in average global temperature. Don’t panic. The trend indicates we still have a few million years before the world warms enough to melt Antarctica and flood the Statue of Liberty. Point is, climate change has long occurred, and probably will do so regardless of the most expensive carbon-control measures. New climate Czar John Kerry acknowledges that if America totally stopped carbon dioxide emissions today, it would have negligible influence on climate change. 

Meanwhile, expect more carbon-credit trading entities to offer farmers cash for “approved” carbon sequestering practices. These virtue-signaling platforms for trading carbon-emitting indulgences may enable many farmers to cash checks for growing cover crops, converting crop residue into active humus rather than letting it oxidize and escape as CO2, and gaming the other approved sequestering practices. 

The new administration is proposing to shift millions of dollars in federal payments to farmers from direct “stimulus’ transfers to green payments for climate-change practices. 

We live in interesting times!