For centuries, farmers have operated largely at the mercy of nature’s fickle temperament, whether this was expressed as a late freeze, a prolonged drought or a scorching temperature spike.

Now, a growing number of them are pushing back, thanks to what climate researchers have learned about El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), recurrent and normal temperature variations in a large swath of the eastern Pacific Ocean that influence climate conditions in the U.S. Southeast.

Jesse Scott of Malvern, Ala., is among the growing number of producers pushing back against nature using climate forecasts based on what scientists have learned about ENSO.

“I usually plant around 100 acres of dryland corn every year,” Scott says, “but from 2006 to 2011, we had really bad rain-fed corn yields.”

This hard reality prompted Scott to reduce his dryland corn acreage from about 100 to 20 acres. But after learning about climate forecasting a couple of years ago at a meeting sponsored by the Southeast Climate Consortium and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Scott changed his mind.

Based on 2012 climate forecasts, Scott planted 95 acres of corn — a decision he has never regretted. His 2012 yields averaged 90 bushels an acre. His crop also happened to fetch a high price, making the decision even better, he recalls.

Brandon Dillard, a regional agronomy agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, compares the progress made in climate forecasting to what happened with fertilizer adoption during the last century. A few early forerunners like Scott bought into it, posted significant gains and, in the process, inspired other producers to embrace forecasting.

Also, much like fertilizer adoption, the more farmers buy into it and the more scientists study and build on what they learn, the more refined and useful climate forecasting becomes, says Dillard, one of several Extension educators at the forefront of efforts to help farmers benefit from these new insights.

“When we first started this, one of the goals was for farmers to use forecasting to change how they farmed,” Dillard recalls. “I initially thought this was a bit of a stretch, but we’re beginning to see this knowledge become more refined and with this refinement has come more tools and information.”

Florida’s State Climatologist, David Zierden, has spent much of his career helping Southeastern row crop producers gain a better understanding of how climate forecasting can contribute to greater farm productivity and less risk.

“We’ve made some progress,” Zierden says, speaking at the 14th annual Wiregrass Cotton Expo in Dothan, Ala. “We’re getting a handle on the predictability of seasonal rainfall and temperature.

“It’s not everything we need to know, but we’re making progress.”