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USDA Crop Production

09 February 2012

USDA Crop Production - February 2012USDA Crop Production - February 2012

During January, temperatures were above average across much of the Nation, leading to thawing fields, below average snowpack, and declining soil moisture levels in many locations.
USDA Crop Production Report

January Weather Summary

The “year without a winter” gained momentum in January, with the majority of the continental United States reporting above-normal temperatures. Monthly temperatures averaged more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in parts of the north-central United States, while near- to slightly below-normal temperatures were confined to southern Florida and the Pacific Northwest.

Nevertheless, cold weather caused some concerns during January. For example, an early-month freeze damaged some vegetables and other temperature-sensitive crops across Florida’s peninsula on January 4-5. Later, a mid-January cold spell resulted in sub-zero readings across the northern Plains. At the time of the initial cold blast, the northern High Plains’ winter wheat crop had no protective snow cover.

Much of the Plains’ wheat belt also experienced drier-than-normal conditions during January, although an early-February snow storm provided much-needed moisture across central portions of the region. On both the northern and southern High Plains, mild, mostly dry, windy weather reduced wheat’s winter hardiness. In contrast, periods of heavy rain provided some drought relief across the southeastern Plains, including central and northeastern Texas.

Farther northeast, slowly developing drought in the upper Midwest contrasted with unfavorably soggy conditions in parts of the eastern Corn Belt. In some of the wettest areas of the lower Midwest, numerous freeze-thaw cycles - combined with excessive soil moisture - were detrimental to the health of soft red winter wheat.

Meanwhile, drought remained a concern across much of the Deep South as the spring planting season approached. In fact, drought intensified during January in the southern Atlantic region, where mostly dry weather and occasional freezes resulted in the deterioration of pasture conditions.

Elsewhere, drought also expanded in the West, particularly from California to the Intermountain region. Despite a week of wet weather (from January 18-24), the Sierra Nevada ended the month with prospects for a “normal” season diminishing. The average water content of the high-elevation Sierra Nevada snow pack stood at 6 inches on January 31, less than 40 percent of average. Areas to the north, from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies, fared better during January, with periods of heavy rain and snow.

January Agricultural Summary

During January, temperatures were above average across much of the Nation, leading to thawing fields, below average snowpack, and declining soil moisture levels in many locations. Most notably, temperatures in the northern Great Plains were more than 12 degrees above normal, where some winter wheat fields were left unprotected due to a lack of snow cover. Precipitation totals varied widely from one region to another, with portions of Texas accumulating more than 300 percent of normal moisture levels during the month. Elsewhere, the remainder of the Great Plains, as well as the Southwest and Atlantic Coast States were unusually dry.

Producers in Florida implemented a variety of freeze protection methods to help limit the impact of several early-month cold spells on unharvested winter vegetables. Minor damage was reported in flowering snap bean and squash fields, as well as sugarcane fields. In Palm Beach County, green beans in all stages of development suffered significant damage, with approximately half of the crop destroyed. Late blight was reported in tomato and potato fields later in the month. Scarce rainfall throughout the citrus-producing region left many trees showing signs of wilt, as producers performed routine cultural practices and harvested oranges and tangerines.

Despite improving winter wheat conditions in portions of the Texas High Plains early in the month, high winds depleted soil moisture levels and blowing sand damaged the crop toward month’s end. Some early-seeded wheat fields failed due to unfavorable growing conditions. Cotton producers were busy applying pre-planting herbicides; however, the continued dry weather left many producers cautious about increasing acreage using expensive seed. Elsewhere, producers in the Lower Valley harvested citrus, vegetables, and sugarcane throughout January.

In portions of the West, dry weather left dryland small grain fields in need of additional moisture to sustain growth. Producers in Arizona wrapped up harvest of their 2011 cotton crop mid-month, while barley and Durum wheat seeding was ongoing until month’s end. Generally mild winter conditions allowed producers in many areas time for cultivating, fertilizing, and irrigating fields in preparation for spring planting.

Crop Comments

Sugarcane: Production of sugarcane for sugar and seed in 2011 is estimated at 28.6 million tons, of which 27.1 million tons was utilized for sugar and 1.56 million tons for seed. Total production for sugar and seed is up 1 percent from January and up 5 percent from 2010. Sugarcane producers harvested 873,000 acres for sugar and seed in 2011, unchanged from the January forecast. Yield for sugar and seed is estimated at 32.8 tons per acre, up 0.4 ton from January. Estimates for Hawaii, Louisiana, and Texas were carried forward from January.

In Florida, harvest remained active throughout January. Minor freeze damage was reported during the first week of January.

February 2012

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