Record March warmth had many Minnesotans wondering why it felt like May.
March 17, 2012 set a new record for the earliest 80 degree F temperature ever for March. Nighttime temperatures of 61 degrees on March 18-19 were the warmest minimum low temperatures ever recorded for those dates in the Twin Cities.
Temperatures for the last portion of March were 15-25 degrees above normal.
“Many locations, including the Twin Cities, are on pace to set a new record for the warmest month of March in history,” said Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.
In southwest Minnesota, farmers or cooperatives took advantage of workable field conditions to apply anhydrous ammonia.
Dry conditions last fall prevented many farmers from completing their fertility applications, said Liz Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension crops educator, Worthington.
“We’ve got a window to get anhydrous on this spring,” she said. “The dry conditions last fall were a concern, as were the clods.
“Growers tried spreading anhydrous last fall, but they could smell it – or it was working up so tough – so they had to stop. They were concerned about the soil sealing.”
The earliest planting date for corn for crop insurance in southwest Minnesota is April 11. The risks involved with planting ahead of that date are just too much of a gamble for most farmers. Those risks include no crop insurance and limited seed supply in a replant situation.
Data from the Southwest Outreach and Research Center, Lamberton, indicates the optimum planting window for corn in Minnesota is April 21-May 6.
The earliest planting date for small grains for crop insurance in southwest Minnesota was March 21. Stahl suspected there were farmers getting started with planting small grains; however, spring wheat is rarely raised in Minnesota’s most southerly tier of counties.
The optimum planting date for small grains planting in southern Minnesota is the first week of April. In central Minnesota, small grains are typically planted the second or third week of April, while northern Minnesota’s planting dates are the last week of April to the first week of May.
In general, small grains can handle moderate drought conditions, and do best when planted as early as possible to maximize yield. The optimum growing temperatures for wheat are 75-77 degrees, and 68-70 degrees for barley and oats.
“Varieties that mature before the heat of summer should be selected,” said Jochum Wiersma, University of Minnesota small grain specialist. “Bottom line: There is a risk of cold weather returning. Frost is likely to return to the region, but the odds of really cold temperatures that could damage the crown appear to be relatively small.”
Stahl was hoping for significant rainfall in early April to keep farmers from planting corn too early.
“Although we have received some moisture over the past couple of weeks, and the lawns are green for the first time since the end of July, the soil profile is still deficient in moisture,” she said. “More moisture is needed to recharge the soil profile and to help ensure crops can access the moisture needed for a successful 2012 growing season.”
She added that 3-6 inches or more of rain are needed to make up the soil moisture deficit.
Nearly all of Minnesota was designated in moderate to severe drought as of March 27. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, precipitation totals from August 2011 through February 2012 were less than 7 inches in many areas. The precipitation totals rank among the lowest on record for southwest and south central Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group.
The rest of the state is in a very similar condition, with DNR burning permits required across the state, and variance permits required for central, north central and northwest Minnesota. All of Minnesota received a moderate fire danger rating as of March 29.