Experts see cool, wet spring ahead

FARGO, N.D. -- A cold, wet spring. A mild, wet summer. Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist says that's the message because of back-to-back La Ni?a weather phenomenon. That's a relative cool condition in the Pacific Ocean near the equato...

FARGO, N.D. -- A cold, wet spring.

A mild, wet summer.

Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist says that's the message because of back-to-back La Niña weather phenomenon. That's a relative cool condition in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, which correlates to weather in North Dakota as farmers move into the spring and summer. Akyuz, a speaker at the annual Soybean Expo Feb. 10 in Fargo, N.D., says it is not possible to be much more specific about how cold and how wet.

As North Dakotans are experiencing a "rare" phenomenon of rain in February, related to back to-back La Niña occurrences. The only similar previous occurrences have been the winter of 1996 to '97, when there was 117 inches of annual snow fall and flooding hit the Red River Valley.

Last year, Akyuz says that while there was a 65 percent to 75 percent probability of cooler-than-normal temperatures for last year, there was a 10 percent probability that it would have been warmer than normal. People often forget there is a chance of warmer-than-normal conditions.


He says the good news is that any moderate drought that existed in western North Dakota is "perhaps going to go away" after the early February system passed through.

Among other speakers at the event:

n Long-term cycles: Larry Acker, owner of "3F Forecasts" of Polo, Ill., spoke about his theories involved with cycles in ag and other commodity markets.

Acker, a military veteran who went on to a government career in geology, fertilizer and land reclamation, returned home to Illinois to farm from 1969 to 1979. Since then, he's been in the advising business and edits monthly and twice-daily e-mail "hot lines" for more than 400 clients.

Acker, who says he keeps track of some 6,000 cycles -- which he says range from 2.5 hours to 510 years -- offered these summaries. He keeps track of a "war cycle," which he says will peak this summer. Among things, he thinks oil prices will go down and then the war cycle will send it up to $150 a barrel again and that motorists will again pay $4 to $5 per gallon gasoline prices.

In the near term, fertilizer prices have to come down farther still.

"These commodity prices don't sustain high prices on fertilizer," he says.

The land value cycle started going up in 1995 and will peak in 2010.


"But I don't know," he acknowledges. "It may not go down much at all; it may sit there for awhile."

He says the wild card is whether international markets recover.

n Soy diseases: Wayne Pederson, a Grandin, N.D., area native and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, spoke about various soybean disease issues.

Pederson notes that as a retired professor he still can do any research he wishes and notes that he's using a new "root scanner" technology, which allows him to accurately measure a soybean root system, including the diameter of roots. He shows some of these photos that color-coded the root systems under various regimens.

He notes that when prices for soybeans remained stable and fairly low, farmers mostly asked academics for ways to cut costs.

Since prices spiked in 2008, however, more producers are pressing for ways to increase yields, even if it meant extra production costs. He works with some individuals, including an Illinois producer who demonstrated a 96-bushel-per-acre soybean yield in 2008.

Among the priorities for researchers should be a scouting system for R3, or late-season, to determine whether a foliar fungicide will be effective.

"Right now, we're spraying blind, based on variety," he says.


Pederson categorizes pathogens as either "killers" or "nibblers" into farm profits and described how he designs field-scale experiments to mimic adverse conditions so that he can evaluate and compare varieties so farmers can see the yield effects of various seed populations under various seed treatments.

For example, he says, pythium is a wet soil pathogen that leads to seed rot, is increasingly becoming a problem. It is a potential problem everywhere, and he says farmers may need to plant earlier to avoid it, though few in the audience say they are planting later to avoid disease.

n National policies: Richard "Rick" Ostlie of Northwood, N.D., who stepped down in December as chairman of the American Soybean Association, reviewed the 2008 farm bill accomplishment. He says a $6 target priced for soybeans was as good as producers could have expected, considering federal budget considerations at the time.

"We would have liked to have had a $7 target price, but we were realistic," he says.

He says 40 percent of the farm bill components have not yet been enacted, and he says the Farm Service Agency needs funding to update its computers.

Among other things, he also was pleased to have made sure the new revenue-based ACRE program was pegged to 2007 to '08 prices, instead of the original 2006 to '07 plan.

He also says a $1-per-gallon incentive program for biodiesel was absolutely necessary to keep from shuttering biodiesel plants who are "struggling" even with the subsidy.

Ostlie listed numerous challenges, including a national effort to define "sustainable" agriculture.


He notes that the Leonardo Academy, based in Madison, Wis., is developing standards for sustainability through a process involving American National Standards Institute sustainability and the Standards Development Organization.

While the standards will be voluntary, Ostlie and others think the standards could have unforeseen international and policy implications. He is cheered that Ron Moore, vice president of the ASA, and a farmer, is the vice chairman of the group working with the Leonardo Academy.

"We don't want some group to decide that to be sustainable, farming has to be nonbiotech, or organic," Ostlie says.

He says there are those who think biotech soybeans, for example, are "more sustainable than organic, from a carbon basis."

He says organic farming requires the tillage of soil, which releases carbon, while biotech beans can be grown with little soil disturbance.

What To Read Next
Get Local


Agweek's Picks