It was pretty well agreed that there was no way the winter blizzard that buried the Twin Cities and the Windy City and the Indy City was going to cause much of a problem for attendance at the 29th Annual Conservation Tillage Conference in Ada this week. As one expert put it, "Most of these guys need their CCA credits too bad not to be here."
As expected a crowd of 917 farmers and agronomists showed up for the excellent agronomically-oriented agenda Tuesday and Wednesday. We were there to present the Master Farmer Awards Tuesday morning to Nancy and Jim Patterson of Chesterland, Brenda and Jim VanTilburg of Celina and Brenda Butler and Joe Celuch of Frazeysburg. Congratulations to the new honorees and thanks to Randall Reeder and all the CTC organizers for making room for this great award on their schedule.
Given the dire predictions for up to 8 inches of snow in the area, I was relieved when all of the winners showed up Tuesday. Still I could tell there were some folks watching the windows and wondering just how bad it was really going to get and just how best to time their escape in case things got flakey.
It was only appropriate that the opening speaker for the conference directed his comments to extreme weather. Jerry Hatfield USDA Ag Research Service from Ames, Iowa, asked the audience if they were prepared to handle the added stress of dealing with extreme weather. He noted that the dry weather over the last year has pulled soil moisture from as deep as 6 feet in places. He attributed some of last year's better than expected yields to the fact that a dry spring encouraged the crops to send their roots deeper than usual. But that deep growth was also what pulled the water out of such deep levels of the ground.
"There's no water left in our deep soils in Iowa," he said. "It will take 10 inches of rain to regenerate that water."
The extreme weather events also continue to degrade our fragile soil resources, he said. Not only were the number of days of consecutive heat greater than usual, the extended number of hot nights were also hard on the soil and its biology.
"Soil is too often ignored in the discussion of climate change," Hatfield said. "But soil is the foundation of crop production and the key to nutrient management and fertility. Stressed soils are less able to handle extreme weather events."
He urged farmers to consider residue and cover crops as ways to mitigate the extreme weather. "Residue feeds the soil biology below it. In the short term you increase infiltration and decrease Water evaporation. In the long-term you increase soil organic matter and improve the soil environment."
Jim Noel, OSU climatologist, offered some insights into what the weather may have in store this spring in the latest issue of C.O.R.N.
"Historic data such as big U.S. droughts like the 2012 drought or sunspot peaks suggest a slightly colder and wetter spring in the Ohio Valley including Indiana and Ohio. Those same historic indicators also suggested a slightly warmer and wetter winter along with near normal snowfall. That is exactly how winter came out and what the National Weather Service called for. At the same time our climate models suggest a slightly warmer March to May period with precipitation not far from normal.
The main message this spring growing season is most of our data does not suggest the record wet 2011 or record dry 2012 or the record heat of 2012. Most data suggest closer to either side of normal.
"Therefore, the outlook for the spring growing season is for temperatures to go from colder than normal in March and early April to slightly warmer than normal by May. At the same time rainfall will likely be close to or slightly wetter than normal. Originally in winter it looked like spring would be slightly warmer and slightly wetter than normal. The main change is the first half of spring looks continued chilly. There is increased risked of some later freezes this spring especially compared to 2012."
I am a regular listener to the local TV weather men on the 11 p.m. news and I am convinced they think the best way to boost their ratings is to call for as extreme a weather event as possible. It doesn't help when that hit it right as in their prediction of heavy snowfall for the northwestern part of the state following the Tuesday session of the CTC. A little bit of normal in terms of the weather would be just fine with me.