However, reduced rainfall will affect surface water and aquifer recharge throughout the Southeast, the SECC stresses.

What most concerns Ortiz is the effects this prolonged dryness will have on increasing temperatures at a time when winter crops - winter wheat, forages and vegetables — are sorely in need of adequate chilling hours.
“Plants are not going to be able to accumulate the degree units required for flowering — that may be an issue,” she says.

For farmers, that may be only the beginning of the challenges.

The SECC foresees a high probability that La Niña will develop into one of the stronger events of the past 60 years, which will likely mean that its effects will be felt into the spring.

With this in mind, if La Niña is still strong during the spring, Ortiz says farmers should consider planting summer crops earlier than normal to take advantage of summer rains during peak water demand — a special concern for corn producers.

“The corn tasseling and ear development period in corn production is one when the plants require lots of water,” she says. “So in those cases in which you aren’t able to irrigate adequately, early planting may allow you to take better advantage of summer rainfall.

“Even so, one should plant with the understanding that early freeze might occur.”

While La Niña’s effects will be less evident on summer annual crops, the warmer winter and spring temperatures nevertheless may influence pest and disease pressure during the summer months.

Cotton producers, should be especially mindful of cropland located near yellow mustard and wild pansy plants, which are ideal hosts for thrips.

Warm conditions may also enable soybean rust to over-winter on kudzu in south Georgia and throughout much of the Alabama Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle.

If dry conditions persist during the spring, growers should also consider killing cover crops earlier to preserve more moisture in the soil, the SECC advises.

The agroclimate Web site, www.agroclimate.org, developed by the SECC, provides frequently updated climate and agricultural outlooks as well as decision support tools that can be used to reduce climate-related risks.