Climate Change Makes Farmers Chase New Planting Windows

By Eric Betz | April 3, 2017 12:41 pm
A farmer climbs into a combine. USDA/Lance Cheung.

A farmer climbs into a combine. (Credit: USDA/Lance Cheung)

Most people think of frost as a farmer’s worst nightmare. But for corn growers in Illinois, there’s little worse than a warm, soggy spring. Rainfall can soak soft prairie soils and rot the kernels before they can grow. If the rains keep farmers from their fields long enough, crop yields start to plummet. Rain can also wash away herbicides, pushing growers to apply more.

For years, this fear has driven farmers to plant earlier and earlier. Late April used to be the prime planting window. This year, weather permitting, many will begin planting this week.

Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois extension specialist, says each year he hears stories of people planting earlier than the last. Some of those are just tales for the coffee shop, he says. This year he heard rumors of people planting in February. But he’s seen the trend himself over recent decades. Though he points out that seed treatments and high-tech farm equipment are as responsible for jumping the gun as the weather.

“Forty years ago a farmer with good conditions the first week of April almost certainly would not have planted,” he says. “It was seen as too risky. Today that’s not the case.”

These trends, along with a string of wet springs late in the last decade, prompted U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Adam Smith to investigate how planting windows might shift even more with climate change in the years to come.

He and his colleagues used the latest climate models to see what might happen in Illinois down the road. They found spring continues to get warmer and wetter. But summers also get hotter and drier. Both of those are bad for crop yield. If the plant overheats while it’s maturing, it makes less corn. It can also freeze in the ground.

Their models show two planting seasons emerge in the future. One happens in March, as warmer winters let farmers plant earlier and earlier. The other comes between May and June, after the soggiest weather but before the heat.

“The season fragments and we start to see an early-early season, so that March starts looking like a good target for planting in the future,” he says. “In the past, March has been the bleeding edge. Nobody in their right mind would have planted then. But we’ve already seen the trend for early planting.”

Timeliness has always been vital in farming, but soon many Midwest growers will have to decide between these two contrasting strategies. Do they plant early and risk the cold, or do they plant late and risk the heat?

“There’s a clock ticking as soon as it begins to warm up in the spring and the field is plantable,” Smith says.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • OWilson

    Farmer’s have never been guaranteed that perfect weather between flood and drought.

    But mother nature has blessed us with U.S. record corn production yields, year after year, after year!

    With should pause and be thankful, once in a while!

    • CB

      “Farmer’s have never been guaranteed that perfect weather between flood and drought.”

      Uh huh, but they are predicted to experience extremes of both because of our impact on the climate.

      This is a fact you have been told before, is it not, Mr. Wilson?

      “Arctic amplification (AA) – the observed enhanced warming in high northern latitudes relative to the northern hemisphere… may lead to an increased probability of extreme weather events that result from prolonged conditions, such as drought, flooding, cold spells, and heat waves.”

      (Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus, “Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes”, Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 39, Issue 6, 17 MAR 2012)

      • OWilson

        According to NOAA’s 38 year satellite record, the anomaly is currently 0.12 degrees.

        That’s 12 hundredths of a degree in the last 38 years, over the whole planet.

        Scientifically statistically insignificant!

        You want to do what, again? :)

        • CB

          “According to NOAA”

          So yes?

          You have been informed that climate change will cause more extreme weather?

          “Human activities, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use, influenced specific extreme weather and climate events in 2014, including tropical cyclones in the central Pacific, heavy rainfall in Europe, drought in East Africa, and stifling heat waves in Australia, Asia, and South America, according to a new report released today.”

          (NOAA, “New report finds human-caused climate change increased the severity of many extreme events in 2014”, November 5, 2015)

          • OWilson

            Hang on to those old reports from 2012 and 2015. :)

            Put them in your scrapbook, along with “Hillary ahead by 14”, and “Trump has no path to……” (fill in the gap!)

            Today, we have NOAA, 0.12 degrees over the entire 38 year record, well below even the LOWEST prediction of IPCC 1990 FAR.

            And, President Trump!


          • CB

            “Today, we have NOAA”


            Today, yesterday.

            Maybe even tomorrow, if luck holds.

            What’s your point, Mr. Wilson?

            “2016 became the warmest year in NOAA’s 137-year series.”

            (NOAA, “Global Analysis – Annual 2016”)

          • Mike Richardson

            Notice that the only reply you get is crowing over politics? Nothing to counter facts relevant to the discussion, just the nonpartisan rants of an unbalanced mind. Sad!

          • CB

            “Notice that the only reply you get is crowing over politics?”

            What I have noticed is that whoever runs the “OWilson” account seems to be profoundly mentally disordered.

            There are some people out here who are paid to lie, but I don’t think Mr. Wilson is one of them.

            That said, I don’t see why he should be allowed to spam articles like this with irrelevant nonsense.

            (NOAA Climate, “High-latitude growing season getting longer”, Rebecca Lindsey, December 5, 2012)

          • OWilson

            Ah, the true “believers”!

            Always with the totaltarian urge to label all “deplorables”, as “mentally deficient” and of “unbalanced mind”. Bring on the Re-Education Centers! :)

            And the rank confusion about why comments in a public forum, “should be allowed”.

            Thank you guys.

            I couldn’t have said it better myself!

            Now I’m done with you here!

  • Uncle Al

    We must burn gasoline with 10% higher mileage not gasohol, no car parts corrosion or elastomer destruction, no aldehyde pollution out the tailpipe, no $billion annual Federal subsidies to agri-giant corn pimp Archer-Daniels-Midland. I’m laughing.

    …1) Plow and landfill Louisiana flat to afford 33,453,440 acres, 10% allocated for infrastructure.
    …2) Plant oil palm, 635 gal/acre biodiesel, 37-54 iodine number, 19 billion gal/year biodiesel.
    …3) 142.41 billion gal/yr US 2016 gasoline consumption.
    …4) 83.55 billion gal/yr US 2016 distillate fuel oil plus jet fuel consumption.

    Whoa! Corn fuel ethanol is hyper-expensive piddlešit! “a farmer’s worst nightmare” is America’s best hope. “we’ve already seen the trend for early planting” Yeah – we divorce you, we divorce you, we divorce you. Grow marijuana, bankrupt Mexico.

  • Mike Richardson

    If anyone would take note of the long term changes to the weather (climate), it would be the men and women whose livelihood depends on it. Length of the growing seasons, average precipitation, periods of drought, and severe weather events (such as the deadly winds and hailfall in north Texas this past week) are changes they have to contend with, as do we all. Worthless platitudes from climate denier deniers sure aren’t helping matters. It’s time we start respecting the observations of our farmers, and doing what we can to help them adapt to changes we have already committed to, while also committing to reduction of carbon emissions to avoid still more catastrophic climate change. We aren’t all farmers, but we all must eat. No need to jeopardize the world’s food supply by ignoring or downplaying a threat we can address if only we acknowledge it.

    • CB

      “If anyone would take note of the long term changes to the weather (climate), it would be the men and women whose livelihood depends on it.”


      For the people who think warmer weather always equates to longer growing seasons, there’s something else agriculture needs and that’s water. In some of the most densely-populated places, that water is going away because of climate change…

      “the Hindu Kush-Karakoram-Himalayan glaciers are a source of water for the quarter of the global population that lives in south Asia… Ice cover is decreasing in this region, as for most glaciers in the world, as a result of global warming. Between 2003 and 2009, Himalayan glaciers lost an estimated 174 gigatonnes of water”

      (Nature, “Climate change: Melting glaciers bring energy uncertainty”, Javaid Laghari, 30 October 2013)

    • RealOldOne2

      “Worthless platitudes from climate denier deniers…”
      The climate realists who posted above were posting facts, not platitudes.

      “No need to jeopardize the world’s food supply by ignoring or downplaying a threat we can address if only we acknowledge it.”

      During the last half of the 20th century when you climate alarmists claim we have been experiencing dangerous, catastrophic AGW, the empirical data says that things are doing just fine with the slight increase in CO2 and temperature.

      The world is greening: earthobservatory. nasa. gov/Features/GlobalGarden/

      Crop yields are increasing significantly. 40 of 43 crops have increased yields by an average of 96%, while only 3 crops have decreased yields by an average of 6%.

      This article is reporting model-based alarmism. The climate models have totally failed to accurately project future climate.

      • Mike Richardson

        Doing just fine, eh? How’s the Greenland ice sheet doing? The only point climate models have been wrong with regards to it, are in previous lowball estimates for just how quickly it’s melting down. Likewise with melting permafrost, which results in a positive feedback mechanism by releasing vast amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere. A more tropical world may well be greener, but it will also be a world dealing with flooded coastal cities and the resulting displaced populations, more frequent severe weather, more widespread tropical diseases, and droughts in many areas of formerly productive farmland that will likely offset any gains in other areas. That’s climate realism.

        • RealOldOne2

          “Doing just fine, eh?”
          Yep. Everything happening to the climate over the past century is well within the bounds of natural climate variability.

          “how’s the Greenland ice sheet doing?”
          Just fine, a little natural melting since the end of the Little Ice Age is all:
          All your other scare memes are just alarmist propaganda that doesn’t exist in the real world.

          The real world empirical data has proved your climate cult religion false.

          600+ billion tons of human CO2 added to the atmosphere during the last ~2 decades (40% of all the human CO2 ever produced) and it hasn’t caused the temperature of the atmosphere to increase. Only the natural 2015-2016 El Nino has caused any increase. Prior to that natural warming there was no increase:

          That is climate reality.

          And peer reviewed science empirically shows that the late 20th century warming was natural too. Hatzianastassiou(2005), Goode(2007), Pinker(2005), Herman(2013), McLean(2014) show that there was an increase of 2.7W/m^2 to 6.8W/m^2 of solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface during the late 20th century warming. The increase in CO2 forcing was only ~0.5W/m^2.

          And then you have the latest peer reviewed science showing that the overwhelming portion of CO2 increase is natural anyway:

          “The anthropogenic contribution to the actual CO2 concentration is found to be 4.3%, its fraction to the CO2 increase over the Industrial Era is 15% and the average residence time is 4 years.” – Harde(2017) ‘Scrutinizing the carbon cycle and CO2 residence time in the atmosphere’, sciencedirect. com/science/article/pii/S0921818116304787

          THAT is climate realism.
          You are peddling climate alarmist pseudoscience.

          • OWilson

            We can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the World’s waterfront cities, are encroaching more upon the water than the other way around.

            Land for all kinds of purposes, airports, industrial, residential, commercial, recreational, environmental, even whole cities are being built on reclaimed land.

            Any 8 year old could look it up.

            (See Google Earth Time Engine for starters)

            But they insist of making their predictions, because they only have one brain between the lot of them, as someone wise once said. :)

          • RealOldOne2

            Exactly correct.

          • OWilson

            For the record, in the last few days the “anomaly” of 0.12 degrees, has been adjusted without comment to 0.19.

            NOAA’s raw data set is still showing the 0.12 degrees, however and the slight revision does nothing to change the points raised above.

  • Unbeliever

    Nice…longer growing seasons. Turns out climate change is good for agriculture and our economy.

    • Mike Allen

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    • OWilson

      World record food production.

      Forget the childish cliche of a hayseed farmer scanning the clouds for a sign of rain. :)

      Today’s major food production, that fills your local supermarket with all that wonderful produce from all around the world, is a highly mechanized commercial enterprise of automated efficiency.

      Satellite controlled million dollar machines (factories themselves) to plant, fertilize, harvest, irrigate, that can monitor soil conditions including moisture content, down to each square foot. Then the processing, transportation, storage, and quality control to assure it’s fresh on your table..

      All running on cheap fossil fuel.

      Large greenhouses, pumped full of C02 for those plump tomatoes and strawberriers you have on your table.

      Folks should get out more and see where their own conspicuous consumption actually comes from :)

      Might wake them up! :)

  • John C

    On the whole, isn’t a warmer climate better for growing crops than a colder climate? Greenland vs. California. Just sayin’.

    • OWilson

      Also seeing record agricultural exports. Most in the nation.

      You wouldn’t recognize SW California “the mother of all historical droughts”.

      The deserts are full of green, flowers and streams.!

      • Uncle Al

        The most recent Official Truth is the CA spring thaw bursting dams and aqueducts, dooming California water management to the driest years in recorded history.

        Look at the Oroville Dam’s busted spillway – NO REBAR!!! The thing is hardly more than cement painted on dirt. the emergency spillway was a gate, then downhill, washing away a forest. Alas…it freed up and concentrated a lot of placer gold, compounding the Official tragedy of want.

        • OWilson

          Take a virtual tour of Charlie Manson’s old hangout in the Simi Hills, then and now!

    • Uncle Al

      Return the Earth to 1600s’ Jamestown at -40° in a Virginia estuary. The Green Revolution is defeated. 4 billion people starve outright. 3 billion people sacrifice their crippled and elderly, while their children resize down to North Korean specifications.



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