Renewable Farming

More than El Niño at work in a soggy Eastern and Southeastern U.S.

When rained-out farmers collect at the local coffee shop to gripe about incessant rain this summer, much of the blame falls on the ebbing and flowing El Niño. Today, even Rush Limbaugh was intoning about the biggest El Niño in a half-century and its possible impacts.

Meteorologists fuel that commentary. Kristina Pydynowski, Senior Meteorologist for, says that the current El Niño event could keep building this fall and winter into “one of the strongest in the past 50 years.”

NOAA’s July 9 advisory confirms that analysis. The original term El Niño or “boy Child” in Spanish arose because its effects occurred in the western regions of South America around Christmas — the birth date of Jesus.

Currently, warming of the waters off the coast of South America and Central America near the equator exceed 1 degree centigrade above normal.

However, many more influences are at work in our circulation system. For a seasoned analysis, Noaa’s Tom Di Liberto offers a good read: “No, you can’t blame it all on El Niño.”

He points out that the equatorial Pacific temperature changes modulate only 20% of the world’s surface. That is probably not linked to this fact: In recent years, Midwest summer storm events have tended to become more extreme, which must be linked to a long-term influence. Dr. Jerry Hatfield, director of what we used to call the national soil tilth lab, now the “National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment,” has assembled data showing that the number of storms exceeding an inch of rain in 24 hours has gradually risen the past several years.

You can see the negative influence on crop health, compared with 2014, in the nearby NOAA satellite image. Brown areas indicate poorer crop conditions compared with the previous year. The Southeast and Eastern corn belt are the hardest hit. To see the legend for this image, and a global perspective of worldwide vegetation health change from this time a year ago, visit this link. When the web page opens, look for the “Data Type” tab, click on it and select from the drop down list the image “Vegetation Health Change from Last Year.” Several regions of southern Europe and, most notably, China are in tougher shape than a year ago. Our longtime friend, Bill Fordham, owner of C&S Grain Market Consulting, alerted us to this map.

Here are some positive actions you can take if you’re struggling with a late, soggy season:

1. You can foliar feed major and minor nutrients. Crops in waterlogged soils can’t take up nutrients normally. There’s inadequate soil oxygen for normal gas exchange with the atmosphere. Soil bacteria and fungi can’t multiply normally.  Leaf-absorbed nutrients are metabolized directly without being processed by soil organisms.

2. You can side-dress some extra nitrogen on corn, if it’s standing well. Farmers are coming up with their own “Y-Drop” rigs which hang down between rows and guide the liquid nitrogen stream near the stalks, but not on the stalks.

3. Intensify your cover crop learning curve. A vital part of adding cover species to your rotation is that each additional species “leverages” the range of beneficial bacterial and fungal species in your soil. Improved microbial diversity improves your soil’s ability to absorb moisture and achieve good carbon dioxide exchange.  Kansas State University has been studying the mechanics of soil behavior in weather extremes; here’s a scientific paper on the subject. It’s a PDF… rather large file.