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Pray for Rain (Sometimes)

Rain over potato farm field

There’s always so much uncertainty for producers: equipment, consumer demand, economic conditions, interest rates and cost of production are just a few. But one of the most stressful factors over which we have virtually no control is the weather. Too much rain, not enough rain.

Sometimes, news reports will headline something like:

“Expected rain tomorrow will be great news for farmers!”

But will it be? A significant rainfall in the previous week may mean that crops are still in good shape this week. Or perhaps not. There are so many variables like the climate in that part of the country, temperature trends, type of crops produced and longer-term precipitation.

But timing matters, according to new research.

“While every growing season is unique in some respects,” said Dr. Scott H. Irwin, the Laurence J. Norton Chair of Agricultural Marketing at the University of Illinois, “it is well-known that weather during certain periods is generally a more important determinant of final yield than others, with the crucial reproductive periods for corn and soybeans a prominent example.”

Irwin is an internationally recognized expert on commodities and biofuels. What Irwin learned beyond the basic knowledge that weather outcomes can impact output was the level of that variance. He wrote, “What is not as well-known is the relative magnitude of such impacts. In other words, how much more important is the impact of weather in, say, June versus August?

His research found that July may be the month that necessary precipitation matters most when it comes to yields, at least when it comes to corn. “The bottom-line is that July precipitation truly is the ‘golden number’ for U.S. corn yields,” he wrote.

July temperatures and whether late planting took place also matter, Irwin’s research found.


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