Drought Patterns Explain Much About Indiana Crop Yields

Mid-season shift explains why some areas are faring better than others.

You could lose almost every hair in your head, scratching your head to figure out why corn yields are headed up, soybeans yields down from August estimates, in a year with above-normal temperature and below-normal rainfall for the three summer months weather folks call the traditional summer- June, July and August. The same year features nearly double 90+ days at Indianapolis, and across much of the state. What's especially unusual, weathermen say, is how late the last 90+ day occurred, bringing a string of blazing-hot days to a close. Assuming the mercury doesn't push up past 90 again, which weathermen have their fingers crossed that it won't, the last one occurred at Indianapolis on Sept. 24, at 92 degrees. That was an all-time record for September 24th in the circle city. The latest date ever recorded of a 90+ reading at Indianapolis is October 4.

Ken Scheeringa, of the Indiana state climate office, located at Purdue University, along with the Midwest Regional Climate Center, says that by drilling down through weather data, you can begin to explain why crops turned out as they did across the Hoosier state this year. Believe it or not, east-central Indiana is the only one of the nine Indiana crop reporting districts now forecast to have lower corn yields than the five-year average, according to Greg Preston and his staff at the Indiana Ag Statistics office, part of the National Ag Statistics Service. It's a different picture with soybeans, however, with all but northwest and north-central Indiana ready to post yields below the five-year average, and even those two expected to fall short of '06 soybean yields.

"Drought began as a north-to-south pattern across Indiana when it began in late April into May," the climate center specialist says. "There was more severe drought then in southern Indiana."

But during June, weather patterns shifted. The drought line oriented itself so that it split the state east and west, with eastern Indiana still holding on for dear life, while western counties tended to see more rain. That must be why Preston has talked about an 'east side-west side story' for Indiana since he first announced August preliminary '07 crop estimates for corn. He still believes that the better yields are in western Indiana, especially northwestern and west-central Indiana.

"Then the drought switched back to a north- to- south pattern in late summer," Scheeringa continues. "That's where it stands right now." And if you don't believe it, check up on rainfall statistics for August. The three northernmost crop reporting districts in Indiana recorded above-normal rainfall, while rainfall was scarce in the southern third of the state. It's no wonder that soybean yields, while still not spectacular, are estimated to be stronger in northern Indiana, and most hard-hit in southern Indiana.

"Northwest Indiana got the best of both worlds," he says. "But east-central Indiana got hammered. It was in drought status the entire summer in both patterns. West-central and southwest Indiana got a break at times."

TAGS: Soybean
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