Ol’ Man Winter wreaks havoc on farming season

So what’s really going on with this fight between Ol’ Man Winter and Mother Nature?

Brennan Taylor, FarmLead Breakfast Brief

So what’s really going on with this fight between Ol’ Man Winter and Mother Nature? Why is spring not here yet? In technical jargon, what we’ve been seeing is a “negative arctic oscillation,” which has led to a powerful high pressure block of Arctic air, ultimately forcing the jet stream south.

The extended cold snap in the northern hemisphere is pushing seeding plans back in the Ukraine, U.S., and Canada. A perfect example is in Missouri where some places need the soil to warm up 20 degrees F before farmers can even get into the fields with their corn planters. Moreover, the most recent U.S. drought monitor suggests that 51 per cent of the U.S. (mostly central and western) is in a state of moderate-to-exceptional drought.

Ultimately, colder than normal temperatures across North America continue to keep the precipitation above the ground — and allowing farmers one last vacation somewhere warm if they want to. Above-average spring runoff conditions are expected in Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta. The slow melt and current cold snap are increasing the odds of another major flood in the Red River Valley in Manitoba this spring. With temperatures staying below 0 degrees F until this last week of March, the window of opportunity to get that supposed one million acres of soybeans planted there continues to close.

While U.S. farmers debate corn vs. soybeans, farmers north of the 49th parallel are considering canola acres. Those who are should be aware of China’s decision last week to re-open their doors to Australian canola after banning it in 2010 due to concerns about blackleg. While Canada is expected to export three million tonnes to China this year, China already bought 300,000 tonnes of Aussie canola within days of the ban being lifted. On the soybean front, Sinograins (the Chinese state grain agency) is releasing at least one million tonnes of the oilseed into the domestic market to ease supply issues as they wait for South America to get its transportation/logistical act together.

On March 28, the USDA comes out with its quarterly stocks report and planting intentions in the U.S. There are multiple variables to watch for in the report, notably grains domestic usage. With corn and wheat currently trading at par (or close to it), there’s much speculation of wheat rations being substituted for corn feed. More to the point, the USDA’s Cattle on Feed report on March 22 showed less feed demand as a result of placements of animals for fattening down 14% year-over-year, more than the nine-per-cent decrease expected. With less cattle to feed, this implies less feed grains will be in demand.

Another variable to watch for in the March 28 report is corn attributed to ethanol, which is increasingly becoming a point of debate. With only 3.6 per cent of American cars on the road able to use fuel containing higher ethanol blends (E15 and E85) and lower domestic gasoline consumption, the ethanol mandate looks increasingly outdated. A great, must-read article in The Economist this week (link provided on the March 25 Breakfast Brief titled “Governmental (In)Action”) makes a good point that the mandate influences higher food prices both in the US and abroad through the misallocation of agricultural resources and it needs to end.

The question to ask now is will the government delay any action like the weather is delaying this year’s seeding season?

b.turner@farmlead.com

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