Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Record heat puts corn crop at further risk - probably a week before the damage is done for the year ! 15 year field of GM Tifton 85 grass suddenly produces cyanide gas and kills 15 cows..... brings a near meaning to killing field. US corn crop at risk - next two weeks critical ? Hot and dry weather forecast up to the next ten days in the corn belt could prove a daunting test !


Death Valley heat in Kansas? How the end of June got so hot.

Norton Dam, Kan., hit 118 F. on Thursday, and 32 communities from Colorado to Indiana just posted their highest temperatures ever. Forecasters say back-to-back La Niñas are partly to blame.
Across the US, high-temperature records are falling like beads of sweat, thanks in part to back-to-back La Niñas and a current jet-stream pattern that is steering storm systems coming off the Pacific well up into Canada
These records appear to be falling into step with a longer-term trend in which record highs are being set more often than record lows for each decade since the 1970s – a trend many climate researchers have attributed to global warming.
As June 2012 draws to a close, it feels more like mid-July or August to people in wide swaths of the country.
IN PICTURES: Extreme weather 2012
Between June 27 and June 28, 32 communities stretching from Colorado to Indiana posted the highest temperatures on record ever for their locations – with a handful tying or topping records set only a few days before, according to data kept by the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
Norton Dam, Kan., for instance, recorded an all-time record of 118 degrees F. on Thursday, two degrees above Death Valley's July average. The 118-degree reading shattered Norton Dam's previous record of 113 degrees F. – set just three days before.
More than 350 sites across a broad swath of the continent's interior have posted daily record highs since June 27, with heat advisories on Friday covering all or parts of 23 states from Kansas east to the Carolinas and into the Northeast, and from Wisconsin south to Mississippi and Alabama.
At the same time, other parts of the country are reporting record lows for this time of year.
Anyone looking for relief might put the Northwest on their itinerary. Over the same two-day period, 57 locations, largely clustered in Washington state and northeastern Oregon, posted at least one daily high temperature that tied or beat the lowest for the date on which it was measured.Waterville, Wash., posted the biggest drop among the group – a high of 51 degrees on Wednesday, nine degrees below the previous record-low high of 60 degrees on June 27, 1946.
And it's all coming out of a spring that was the warmest on record in the US, bringing a heat wave to the center of the country in March the likes of which the US hasn't seen since 1910. Indeed, Spring 2012 in the US was 2 degrees warmer than the previous record-holder, the spring of 1910.
One reason for the seemingly relentless high temperatures is the presence of a broad ridge of high pressure inching its way across the continent, forecasters say. With skies generally clear, sunlight has a clear path to travel on its way to baking what in many places is an already parched surface.
As of Tuesday, a broad swath of the US was experiencing either severe or extreme drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
The vast majority of the region stretching from southern Texas north into Nebraska and across to eastern California is experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions that in some cases have lasted for more than a year. Similar conditions cover a patch of the country from Arkansasnortheastward through parts of MissouriIllinoisKentucky, and Indiana. A similar patter is persisting in the Southeast from eastern Mississippi through Georgia and into South Carolina, with some areas there experiencing exceptional drought conditions.

Conditions seem to be mimicking last years, with a slight geographic shift, says Klaus Wolter, a researcher who specialized in regional climate forecasting at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
"Last year we had all that heat in Texas andOklahoma. This year, things seem to be shifted a bit further west," he says.
Back-to-back years of La Niña conditions have set the stage, he says.
La Niña refers to one half of a see-saw pattern in ocean temperatures and atmospheric pressure along the tropical Pacific. During La Nina, tropical Pacific waters off the coasts of Central and South Americabecome colder than normal, while waters in the western tropical Pacific become warmer than normal. During an El Niño event, the temperature patterns reverse.
Both La Niña and El Niño affect atmospheric circulation patterns in the tropics and beyond.
When La Niña prevails, the polar jet stream – a high speed river of air that steers storms across the continent – get pushed farther north than usual, taking storms that move off the Pacific with it. This dries out much of the US southern tier and areas up into the southern Rockies.
Over the past two winters, the US has been affected by back-to-back La Ninas, although the second one was weaker. And while forecasters now expect an El Niño to emerge during the second half of the year, atmospheric circulation patterns can be slow to make the shift, Dr. Wolter says.
Increasingly early snowmelt also leaves the soil drier heading into the warm season. With the landscape across much of the US already deprived of moisture, the region's temperatures rise higher because there is little or no evaporation from the soil to moderate the heat.
"So I'm not surprised we're setting some extreme records," he says.
The patterns that have dried out much of the Mountain states and southern tier also steer storms across the Pacific Northwest before they head into Canada. That accounts for the record low high temperatures there.
It's the same pattern that set up conditions for the extreme warmth in March 1910, Wolter says, suggesting that "once in a hundred years, Mother Nature plays some cards it has played before."
Wolter's biggest concern for the next few months is the potential for smoke from the large fires now burning in Colorado to offset the benefits from the Southwest's summer monsoons, which an on-coming El Niño can drive well into Colorado and beyond.
The tiny soot particles that make up the smokey plumes serve as tiny seeds around which rain can form. But the more particles that are present, the smaller the drops. Monsoons could fizzle by drizzle, instead of bringing badly needed rain.
Over the longer term, researchers need to tease out the causes for the slow pace at which the high pressure has been moving across the continent, he says. Forecasters attribute this to atmospheric blocking patterns, which can cause weather patterns to stall.
Such was the case in Russia in 2010, when a record-smashing heat wave gripped western Russia for five weeks.
"That was an extraordinary block," he says. "You can get a block for one week or two; that's garden variety. We see this all the time. To see it for five weeks is very unusual."
Researchers analyzing the event afterward estimated that there was an 80 percent chance that global warming produced the event – an effect researchers have dubbed "loading the dice."
But Wolter, who focuses his research on regional forecasting, notes that little is known about how the atmosphere sets itself up for such blocking patterns. Similar patterns in winter can lead to record-breaking winter snows accumulations as well.
Getting a better handle on the mechanisms is vital if forecasters hope to predict them, he says. "If you think of the impact of these extreme events, like last year's heat wave in Texas, it's huge."



15-Year-Old Field of GM Tifton 85 Grass Suddenly Produces Cyanide; Kills Cattle

News broke yesterday that a farmer in Elgin, Texas, lost fifteen cattle out of an 18-member herd, after turning them into a pasture planted with Tifton 85 grass, a popular variety noted for its high protein content and high digestibility released in 1993. It is a variety widely planted in Tennessee.
According to Jerry Abel, the owner of the 80-acre farm just east of Austin, TX, “When our trainer first heard the bellowing, he thought our pregnant heifer may be having a calf or something,” said Abel. “But when he got down here, virtually all of the steers and heifers were on the ground. Some were already dead, and the others were already in convulsions.” Fifteen of the 18 cattle turned into the pasture were dead within hours.

Initial tests on the grass showed that the grass was producing cyanide gas, killing the cattle. According to the report, USDA scientists are currently dissecting the grass to determine if a random mutation may be to blame, and what may have caused it to occur. Dr. Gary Warner, an Elgin veterinarian and cattle specialist who conducted the 15 necropsies on the dead cattle, suggested a possible link to the ongoing drought, expressing concern that it may be a combination of factors that led to the mutation. Other ranchers in the area have had their Tifton 85 fields tested, and several of the samples have tested positive for cyanide, although no other cattle are believed to have died to date.

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US Corn Crop at Risk: Next Two Weeks Critical

By: Patti Domm
CNBC Executive News Editor
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Corn is facing the worst crop conditions in two decades and the next two weeks will be critical in determining the size and quality of the U.S. crop.

Stuart McCall | Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

The outlook is particularly difficult since expectations just a few weeks ago were for an early, bumper crop that would provide a record number of bushels and high level of corn in stock.
But unusual heat and lack of rain across the heart of the Midwest corn belt threatens this year’s crop yield and has put a fire under futures prices. Higher corn prices affect everything from cereal to sweeteners to animal feed and the ethanol in gasoline.
Corn for December delivery Tuesday rose 30 cents, or 5.1 percent, to finish at $6.24 per bushel. The price has jumped about 22 percent since the first of the month.
“We need some good, soaking rains within the next 10 days, or we really are talking some yield reductions,” said Randy Mittelstaedt, director of research at RJ O’Brien.
While other grains are also impacted, Dennis Gartman of the Gartman Letter points out that the corn crop is most at risk.
“For corn is tasseling…or soon shall be…and that is its most vulnerable period of the year,” he wrote. “That is when the crop is first ‘made.’ If tasseling does not occur properly, it shall matter not what happens to the corn crop thereafter; the crop will be lost, or greatly diminished.”
So the next two weeks are central to this crop.  Right now the weather for the next five-ten days looks to be hot and dry; the worst possible conditions for making but the best conditions for driving prices higher,” he wrote. Gartman also warned that investors should be wary of a weather trade, as it can quickly reverse.
The latest USDA data, released Monday, shows that conditions have deteriorated with heat and drought impacting the key Midwest growing states. The report said 56 percent of U.S. corn is now rated at good to excellent, down from 63 percent last week. There had been expectations of a bumper crop, needed to replenish U.S. stocks. Soy beans were 53 percent good to excellent, down from 56 percent the week earlier.
Mittelstaedt said the ratings are the worst his statistical analysis shows since 1993.
“It was perfect growing conditions this spring. It was moist and warm,” he said, noting the crop was planted several weeks early.
“Typically, there’s a good relationship between early planted corn and higher yields. The USDA is using a record yield in their forecast,” he said. “One caveat to this argument is we do have the highest corn acreage planted in over 100 years.” He also noted that the northern growing region, including parts of Iowa and the Dakotas, as well as the Carolinas show the potential for good harvests.
15-Day Rainfall Forecast
Unusual heat and lack of rain across the heart of the Midwest corn belt threatens this year’s crop yield

The USDA is expecting 14.8 billion bushels of corn to be harvested this year, but Mittelstaedt is expecting just 13.4 billion. Last year’s crop was 12.4 billion, and the growing region of Iowa, Illiniois, Indiana and Ohio produced 5.7 billion bushels of the U.S. total.
Gartman said the total crop could be 14.2 to 14.4 billion bushels, and that number “may move lower swiftly.” The government forecast is also for 166 bushels per acre, more bullish than some private forecasts below 160. Last year’s yield averaged 148 bushels per acre.
“We see the potential for 2012/2013 U.S. corn ending stocks to be closer to one billion bushels versus the USDA which is last forecasting stocks near 1.9 billion bushels,” he said. “That’s considering conditions don’t get any worse from this point forward. The last 10 days have really taken a dramatic turn for the worse for the crop in all honesty.” Last year’s corn stocks were just 850 million, the lowest level since 1995, he said.
Michael Harris, director of trading at Campbell & Co, said the market is at a point where it is pulling in investors who normally don’t trade corn, evident in how corn was moving sharply higher to limit up levels in a “risk off” market Monday.
“This is what you always worry about when trades get crowded. You’re looking for the fast money to get into the trade. They could be looking for the first rain drop to sell,” he said. “The same volatility we’ve seen on the upside, we could see on the downside.”
Harris said the trend could continue until the weather changes. “You get fundamental people that are playing the weather and you have the systematic trend followers, who are being pulled in as the market continues to go higher,” he said.
Goldman Sachs [GS  91.03    -0.19  (-0.21%)   ] analysts, in a note, point out that the crop conditions were similar in 2008 but they recovered over the course of the season with yields ultimately in line with the USDA’s May projection. They noted, however that the pace of planting that year was one of the slowest on record, while this year’s planting was early, having proceeded at a record pace.
“There was a vastly improved mindset that we were seeing a vastly improved situation for the coming year,” said Mittelstaedt. “That whole psyche is what’s changing right now.”