It seems these days that rains come more sporadically and in larger quantities than in the past. Instead of getting an inch and a half of rain over three days, a farmer might get it in a few hours and their neighbor might get no rain at all. That’s because rains in the Corn Belt are now most often the product of thunderstorms, according to Eric Snodgrass of the University of Illinois.
“When I look back at the 2018 growing season, there were really only two, well-defined low-pressure systems, those are the ones that give you the inch and a half of rain, everything else is thunderstorm activity,” Snodgrass told AgriTalk host Chip Flory during a live broadcast at the Top Producer Summit. “We've seen a transition, that’s been going on for about 70 years, toward more rainfall coming purely from thunderstorm events. These will be sporadic and you're going to get some heavy, heavy rains out of them.”
During the summertime, the long-term trend is for the Western U.S. to go into a ridge configuration which results in hotter and drier weather, he explained. Because the Corn Belt is on the downward slope of that ridge, farmers are dealing with what’s called a Northwest Flow that traps in Gulf moisture and usually results in large thunderstorms.
“A field a half mile down the road gets an inch and a half, and I get nothing,” he said. “That is the nature of the beast right now when it comes to our growing season.”
How can farmers combat this phenomenon? Soil health is critical, Snodgrass said.
“I think the way that we can combat that and continue to be resilient farming is with soil health,” he said. “The people I know that are taking great care of their soil and doing the best practices tend to have less erosion, less run-off and retain what they need, making them able to use that water for longer.”