While nothing is certain about the weather, forecasters’ best bet for this spring is that farmers in the lower Southeast could benefit from earlier planting dates.

“Given typical La Niña weather patterns, these crop simulation models show a very high probability of high yields with an earlier planting date,” says David Zeirden, Florida’s state climatologist.

With crop simulation models, forecasters can vary factors like planting dates, soil types and irrigated or non-irrigated cropland. “If you plant at about the middle of April, it shows a very good probability of high yields and a low probability of low or medium yields. If we go to a later planting date, with the same weather inputs, the probability of high yields goes down while the probability of medium to low yields goes up,” said Zeirden, speaking at this year’s Wiregrass Cotton Expo held in Dothan, Ala.

The recommendation, he repeats, would be to plant as early as you can. “The reason behind that is that while we’ve had rainfall — though it has been a La Niña — if you plant early and take advantage of that soil moisture, get the crop established, and make it through the spring dry season, then hopefully you can take advantage of that summer rainfall at a critical time when the plants need it the most,” he says.

A disclaimer, just when you think you have the weather figured out, Mother Nature shows you who’s the boss. This winter hasn’t been a typical La Niña winter, being much colder than anticipated and not as dry as we thought it’d be.

It has been an extremely frustrating past two years, for farmers, says Zeirden. In 2009, the problem was rainfall. “I won’t go so far as to say it was too much rainfall, it just occurred at the wrong time and created so many problems getting the crop out of the field. In 2010, the problem was a lack of rainfall, and the lack of rainfall occurred at the critically wrong time, when crops were reproducing and flowering,” he says.

Looking at historic yields over the past 40 or so years in the Wiregrass region for peanuts, yields are fairly consistent, but with a number of catastrophic or down years, he says. These years were 1980, 1990 and then again in 2000.

“We looked into this 10-year cycle last year, and we couldn’t find any climate conditions in common with these other years. The El Niño or La Niña phases didn’t match up in these years. We thought it was maybe an artifact of the data and didn’t think it would happen again in 2010, but lo and behold, it did.”