John Deere tractor planting soybeans in Iowa

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

El Nino to La Nina: Iowa is entering an ‘interesting period’

April 25, 2024 | Kriss Nelson

Planting is well underway, and Mother Nature has been cooperative so far. Could that change this weekend?

Dennis Todey, director of the Midwest Climate Hub in Ames, has warned that severe weather and heavy rainfall may occur in the next week to 10 days.

“This could make things more interesting for farmers, but it is unlikely to cause any major delays in planting,” he says. “However, it may slow things down a little.”

Although there have been some timely rains this spring, most Iowa soils will welcome the precipitation.

Todey says, northwest Iowa and areas along the Mississippi River, as well as parts of southeast Iowa, have received some decent rainfall, which has improved the soil conditions in these regions. However, parts of southwest to northeast Iowa, as well as across the middle of the state, remain relatively dry due to the longer-term dryness experienced over the past several years.

La Nina or El Nino?

Heading into the 2024 growing season, Todey says “We are entering an interesting period.”

“We have been in an El Nino after three years of a La Nina,” he says. “The El Nino is fading quickly and will likely transition back to La Nina by the end of summer.”

What does that mean for Iowa and the rest of the Corn Belt?

Weather signals have been variable; so far, the most consistent signal Todey is seeing is warmer temperatures are expected this summer.

“That puts us in a situation where if our soil profiles were full, I would still be concerned, just less concerned,” he says. “Where we have dryer soils, we have less water in the bank to help us get through any dry periods or these hotter periods where crops are going to use more water. I am not raising any flags saying it is going to be bad—yet. But there is potential for some problems focused on Iowa and larger parts of the Corn Belt.”

While you can't control the weather, you can manage other things.

"I am not a marketing expert, but there are some potential issues that you should keep in mind while planning your marketing strategy," says Todey. “For instance, if you have dry soil in certain areas, it may not be feasible to expect high yields from those spots. Instead, you could focus on achieving yields that are more suitable for the amount of moisture available in the soil."