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An Early Spring, A Dry Spring??

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
April 1, 2015         
Source:  Dan Martens, Extension Educator
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties



An Early Spring, A Dry Spring??
By Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension

FOLEY, Minn. (03/25/2015) —I don’t claim to have any significant expertise in predicting the weather. But growing up on a farm and working around agriculture creates anticipation about what the weather might be like for the next day or two, week or two, month or two, and through the growing season. U of M Extension weather specialist Mark Seeley wrote the following as part of his March 20 weekly weather notes:

“The NOAA Climate Prediction Center released a new seasonal climate outlook on Thursday, March 19th.  For the Western Great Lakes Region, including Minnesota it calls for a warmer and drier than normal April-June period. This outlook reduces the threat of spring flooding on Minnesota rivers, but it also exacerbates an already exceptionally dry year so far, with over 88 percent of the state landscape in moderate drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

As of March 24, the 6 to 10 day outlook for March 30 to April 3 showed a 30 to 40% chance of being warmer and a 30 to 40% chance of more precipitation. The 8 to 14 day outlook for April 1 to 7 issued a 60% chance of being cooler with a 30-40% chance of more precipitation. That would seem to mean the warmer and drier outlook could be waiting a little yet to unfold. Some delay in that could put us in a more normal pattern for field work. And of course that could all change by the time you read this.

Farmers wisely look at the approaching spring with a plan to be ready to do what they can when they can. There might not be a lot to gain by planting small grains in March, but maybe not a lot to lose either. Farmers watch for soil conditions that are suitable for doing the work. They aim to avoid compaction if soils are wet and there’s time to wait. Planting crops earlier if there is concern about a drier weather pattern, if soil conditions are suitable, gives the crop a chance to make use of moisture early on – as long as the soil is warm enough so crops will get up and going without too much trouble.

There have been reports of some small grain being seeded already. Extension small grain specialist Jochum Wiersma asked in an article recently, “Is it too early to already be thinking spring and seeding small grains?” For federal crop insurance, farmers should know for specific crops in their area, what the earliest date for planting and being eligible for insurance coverage. It varies by crop and can also vary by location in the state. 

Wiersma writes that spring wheat, barley and oats will start germinating in earnest when soil temperatures reach 40⁰F. Once the imbition phase starts (seeds absorbing water) there is no return to dormancy and the germination/emergence should be as quick as possible to establish a healthy, vigorous seedling. A long germination process will predispose the seeding to attacks of soil-borne fungi like pythium damping off or common root rot, ultimately reducing stands. Daytime highs in the sixties and lows around 40 are great and will allow the crop to emerge in 8 to 10 days and make for a robust stand.

During germination and seedling emergence and up to the 5-leaf stage, the growing point will be at about a 1-inch depth. At this depth it is protected from the ambient temperatures. The crown can sustain temperatures down to 28⁰F and probably even handle short periods of temperatures as low as 22⁰F. Even if above ground leaves freeze, the plant will survive and continue its development as long as the crown does not suffer freezing injury.

Thus planting really early is a risk if temperatures plummet. If snow accompanies the cold weather, the snow will act as insulation and reduce the risk of the crowns freezing. Thanks, Jochum.

Most people seem to find a favorite weather outlook. You can do a website search for NOAA Climate Prediction Center to find their 5-7 day, 6-10 day, 8-14 day, 30 day, and 90 day outlooks pretty easily.  You might like a local radio or TV weather person, Farmer’s Almanac, DTN, WBC (wooly-bear catepillars) or TWT (time will tell).

Your past experience with the weather, field conditions, and resulting crops is certainly significant. As you look ahead to the spring work season, please make SAFETY a priority. 


Daniel Martens
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 968-5077
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