Farmers shellshocked by the 1988 drought are worrying anew whether the unusually warm winter will break, sending them the precipitation they need for next year's crops.
"There's a pervading omen, a feeling of ominous concern. I sense it with other farmers, I sense it with the salesmen of agricultural products," said Joe Summer, a corn and soybean farmer in McLean County in central Illinois.Parts of the county have received 25 inches less rain than average in 22 months. For the first time in 45 years of farming, Summer is taking out multiperil insurance on next season's crop.
The warm, dry winter had something to do with that decision, he said Thursday, but so did bad crops in six of the past eight years in what used to be the nation's top corn-producing county.
"We're all beginning to get a little paranoid about it," the 62-year-old farmer said. "There is no frost in the ground. This unusually warm weather is strange. It is a harbinger of some sort, I think."
According to the National Weather Service, severe to extreme drought conditions continue in much of the northern Great Plains, northern Rockies and parts of the Midwest.
The weather service's most recent precipitation map shows extreme drought in Montana, the Dakotas, central Minnesota, eastern Iowa, northwestern Illinois and much of Wyoming, eastern Idaho, central Washington and eastern Oregon, said meteorologist Dave Miskus of the Climate Analysis Center in Washington, D.C.
However, the most recent 30-day forecast calls for above-normal precipitation, said meteorologist Edward O'Lenic, also of the Climate Analysis Center.
The northern Great Plains and northern Rockies need as much as 8 inches above normal rainfall to end the drought, and Iowa and Illinois need 8 to 9 inches more than normal, Miskus said.
The weather service will not release its spring forecast until the commodities markets close Monday, but O'Lenic said there is no reason to expect more of the drought that hit the nation last summer.
Even so, farmers and Farm Bureau officials are worried.
"At this stage, we're hoping for a terribly wet spring," said Minnesota Farm Bureau administrator Gerald Hagaman. "There's apprehension."
Farm Bureau officials in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa say much the same thing.
"We could have a problem if we don't have above-average rainfall this spring," said Don Henderson of the Indiana Farm Bureau.