New atlas shows perspectives on ag practices, decisions, weather info

Capture2Teams from the Useful to Usable (U2U) and Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems CAP (CSCAP) projects have released the second atlas in a series presenting data from a survey of Corn Belt farmers that was conducted in early 2012.

Farmer Perspectives on Agricultural Practices, Information, and Weather Variability in the Corn Belt: A Statistical Atlas, Volume 2 looks at farmers’ specific behaviors, beliefs about climate and weather, and the tools they utilize to make farm decisions. Specific information covered includes the timing of farming practices and farming decisions, whether and how farmers use weather information when making farming decisions, a detailed look at the influence of agricultural advisors in farmer decision making processes, farmers’ personal experiences regarding weather and risks, additional information on farmers’ attitudes and beliefs regarding climate change, and plans and efforts of farmers to adapt to and manage for weather and climate variability and risk.

Similar to the first atlas this latest publication provides survey results by watershed, and each section contains a tabulated presentation of survey data along with a series of maps that visually represent the distribution of responses across the entire study region.

This publication is available at


Church, Sarah P., Tonya Haigh, Melissa Widhalm, Linda Stalker Prokopy, J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., Jon Hobbs, Tricia Knoot, Cody Knutson, Adam Loy, Amber Saylor Mase, Jean McGuire, Lois Wright Morton, John Tyndall, 2015. Farmer Perspectives on Agricultural Practices, Information, and Weather Variability in the Corn Belt: A Statistical Atlas, Volume 2. CSCAP-0184-2015. West Lafayette, IN. Purdue University Research Repository. doi:10.4231/R79W0CFS


    Envisioning New Roles for land-grant university Extension: Lessons learned from climate change outreach in the Midwest

    Authors: Linda Prokopy and Rebecca Power

    We have been working together for over four years on a USDA-NIFA funded project called Useful to Usable (U2U) that is developing climate information for corn producers in the North Central Region ( As part of this project, we have conducted surveys with farmers, Extension personnel and agricultural advisors. We have broadly defined agricultural advisors for the purpose of this study and surveyed state agency staff (Departments of Agriculture, Departments of Environment), Federal agency staff (NRCS and FFA), county agency staff (Soil and Water Conservation Districts), agricultural bankers, Certified Crop Advisors, input dealers among others. Surveyed farmers managed over 80 acres of corn and grossed $100,000 in 2011; operators of small farms are not included in this analysis. Extension educators surveyed were in agriculture and natural resources program areas.

    These surveys revealed several interesting findings that suggest new directions for Extension in our region.

    1. Land-grant university Extension educators do not believe in anthropogenic climate change at the same level as university scientists (Prokopy et al. 2015b; see Table 1). This reveals a troubling disconnect between climate science and Extension, which has a critical role in disseminating the best science to the public and effectively conveying the needs of the public to university researchers. Continue reading

      Corn Belt farmers’ attitudes toward responses to increased weather variability

      Climate changes and extreme rain and heat/drought events pose significant challenges to the corn and soybean economy in the Midwestern U.S. In the last decade, the intensity and frequency of droughts and floods in the region have increased, with a record loss of 4 billion bushels recorded in 2012. Farm-level adaptation to climate change is a suitable process of adjustments to potential current and future weather variability. Understanding farmers’ attitudes toward their individual and collective efforts to protect land from increased weather variability can provide valuable lessons for agriculture and climate policy makers and agricultural advisors.

      In 2012, a farmer survey carried out by the Sustainable Corn Project (USDA-funded project) in partnership with the Useful to Useable (U2U) project asked 4778 corn farmers from 11 Midwestern states about adaptive responses to increased weather variability. In general, most respondents believed that farmers should take steps to make their operations more resilient (click here to see the fact sheet). One thought-provoking result shows that two-thirds of respondents across all states agreed that farmers should take additional steps to prepare for increased weather variability. According to the survey, a majority of farmers are viewing farm-level adaptation as a necessary step for future sustainability of their farms.

      Farmers’ attitudes toward responses to increased weather variability varies across a diverse social and biophysical landscape. For improved understanding of this multiplicity, the farmer survey was stratified by watershed, with random samples of farmers drawn in each of 22 HUC6 watersheds. Watershed-level data can help to inform localized outreach programming. The survey data shows that while 58% farmers agreed that they as individuals should take additional steps to protect land against risks posed by increased weather variability. The level of agreement varied across watersheds, from a low of 47% in Loup watershed (Nebraksa) to a high of 70% in Kaskaskia watershed (Illinois). Higher levels of agreement toward responses to increased weather variability could suggest that more farmers are willing to support adaptive actions.


        El Nino and It’s Potential Impact on the Corn Belt

        In early May 2015, the Climate Prediction Center reported that weak to moderate El Niño conditions were present in the Pacific Ocean basin, along the equator. Furthermore, there is a greater 90% chance it will continue through summer and a greater than 80% chance it will last through 2015.

        Now that El Niño has arrived, it’s influence on the NWS climate outlooks released last Thursday is considerable. For June (first figure, top row), the Southern Plains are expected to have an increased chance of cooler-than-average temperatures. A large part of the US is expected to have an increased chance of wetter-than-average precipitation, including portions of the southern and western Corn Belt.

        For the period June-August (first figure, second row), the increased chance for cooler-than-average conditions stretches northward and eastward and includes all of Kansas and Missouri, southern Nebraska and Iowa, and far western Illinois. Continue reading


          New Outlooks and Impact on the 2015 Planting Season

          As we reach the latter part of April the whole Corn Belt is well into planting season, though corn planting progress is a little slow so far. Several contrasting issues are impacting planting across the Corn Belt and into the Northern and Central Plains.

          Planting in much of the eastern Corn Belt has been slowed a little by early season wetness particularly in the southeastern parts (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio) where heavier than average precipitation over the last 30-60 days has kept conditions wetter, keeping planters out of the fields. Areas in the Ohio River Valley have seen 150-200% of average precipitation or more in the last 30 days. In contrast much of the plains area (Dakotas to Kansas) has seen much drier conditions leading to increase in coverage on the US Drought Monitor.

          The wet conditions have slowed corn planting compared to average across the southern and eastern areas of the Corn Belt. Continue reading


            Split Nitrogen (N) Decision Support Tool (DST) – Evaluating the Economics of Conservation

            Farmers can conserve nitrogen by applying it when corn can most benefit from its application, reducing nitrogen in the water supply by keeping it in the growing crop.  How can they do so? By applying some to get the crop started and the rest after the corn is out of the ground and actively growing.

            The Useful to Usable initiative has developed a new tool for use by farmer, farm managers, and crop advisors that evaluates the feasibility of transitioning to or continuing use of split applications of nitrogen during the growing season.BlogPic1

            Farmers who do not sidedress nitrogen on an active crop often do so for multiple reasons. One main concern lies in the uncertainty around having the time to get across all those acres when the weather allows one to do so, before the corn grows too large to put machinery in the field. The Split N DST helps with this risk by using local weather data and fieldwork days compiled by the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), to estimate how likely a farmer can apply nitrogen at sidedress across all his or her acres. Continue reading


              Cover Crops and Climate Change: The Value of Modeling

              I am using a modeling approach to answer questions about the ability of cover crops to mitigate climate risks, as described in a recent video produced in collaboration with the Sustainable Corn Project communication team.

              The conservation community of researchers, farmers and practitioners champion the use of cover crops in the Midwest for numerous environmental benefits: reducing water pollution, nutrient recycling, weed suppression, erosion prevention, providing livestock feed, you name it. We also hear anecdotes about cover crops protecting the soil in periods of heavy rain, but what about cover crops in the context of climate change? Cover Crop Soil SamplingThis question is a priority for researchers on the Sustainable Corn project. Climate scientists have documented increases in precipitation intensity over the last several decades in the Midwest, and they anticipate even more in the future. So, can cover crops help mitigate those climate risks?  Continue reading


                2014 – Warmest Year on Record for World, 15th Coldest for Corn Belt

                The year 2014 was considered the warmest year on record for the world, according to three different sources (Japan, NASA, and NOAA). Meanwhile, the Corn Belt experienced the 15th coldest year on record. How can that be?

                First of all, here is how 2014 ranked state by state. Many of the Corn Belt states were much below normal, including the three “I” states – Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana as well as Missouri, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It was the 6th coldest year on record for Illinois and in the top 10% for the other states mentioned. The rest of the Corn Belt was below normal as well. Taken together, this was the 15th coldest year on record for the Corn Belt.


                National Temperature rankings. NOAA National Climatic Data Center

                Continue reading


                  November – December Temperature Swings


                  The late cold snap in December changed what could have been a rather historic situation, one where average December temperatures were actually warmer than November temperatures.  Data is gradually coming in completing the data for the month of December.  The much colder than average temperatures over the after Christmas have helped to bring down the December averages to close to, but generally slightly cooler than November overall.


                  To review what happened over the last two months, November started quite warm, but turned very cold in the middle of the month setting a large number of temperature records as sub-0 F temperatures showed up across parts of the Corn Belt mush earlier than usual.  November ended at 6-10 F below average.  The cold carried on into the first part of December when a sharp change occurred with very warm temperatures across the Corn Belt in December with most of the Upper Midwest 4-8 F above average.    See attached images.

                  Nov14TDeptNWSCR Dec14TDeptNWSCR

                  Final data are still being accumulated.  Most of the stations around the Midwest and northern plains were within a couple degrees between the two months.  The large majority of stations ended up slightly colder in December than November.  But a few stations largely in northern areas ended up warmer in December than November.

                  How odd is this situation?  First we have to look at climatology.  There is a range of results across the Corn Belt comparing averages for the two months.  But generally the average difference between November and December is 10-14 F.  So that they are even close show the oddity of the event with November that cold and December that warm.

                  Has it ever happened?  In some locations, no.  But we can go back to a couple years and find a number of stations where it has happened, 1896 and 1959.  Many stations have both of these with more showing the situation in 1959.

                  Enjoy the little bit of climatic history.


                    New Long Range Outlooks – El Nino

                    The new long range outlooks from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center were released this week.  There was little new information for much of the Corn Belt except in the shorter term.  Let’s review some of the information included.

                    For January another major pattern shift is expected from late December into at least early January where a period of colder than average conditions is very likely throughout the Northern Plains/Upper Midwest.  The 30 day outlook for January reflects that cold area with an increased chance of cold temperatures from the Midwest and central Plains southward.  The main issues related to this are on potential winter wheat damage with the cold and to livestock.  There are no precipitation indications different from average during January through the region.

                    For the 90 day outlook (January – March) the outlooks still bank on El Nino having an impact as the outlooks are largely El Nino-looking.  Specifically this includes cooler temperatures more likely across the southern part of the Midwest, drier than average more likely over the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley and potential for increased precipitation in the central plains.

                    The current El Nino status is that Sea Surface temperatures are in El Nino territory, but have not persisted as long as needed for classification as an El Nino.  Therefore, El Nino is still pending.  Even if El Nino does occur (current probability is 65%) the impacts are likely weaker because this is going to be a weak El Nino.  Therefore, whether the CPC outlooks will play out is somewhat in question over the 90 day period.

                    Looking ahead to the planting season there are no strong indications of issues at this point other than the drier than average area in the outlooks over the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley.  Dry soil moisture conditions have impacted much of the corn belt during the fall, which aided harvest.  But these soils will need some recharge come spring.  The eastern Dakotas and much of Minnesota are reflected as Abnormally Dry (D0) on the US Drought Monitor.  At this point most of these issues with dry soils are only potential problems and could actually aid in spring planting allowing soils to warm more quickly and more readily allow field work.  Conditions will have to be monitored for changes during the next few months based on the rest of winter precipitation and early spring rainfalls.