Win for Winter Wheat: The benefits and concerns for producers after a warmer December across the U.S.

Mild conditions this December have provided the best-growing conditions for winter wheat in a while, but according to USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey, unfortunately, that weather windfall brings with it future concerns for farmers.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor is out, and it shows three key areas where producers received heavy rainfall. Almost all of the contiguous U.S. faced warmer-than-normal temperatures this week, with some farmers seeing 12 degrees above average.

Central and northern California, the southwestern Great Plains, and the East Coast all saw relief this week, with coastal South Carolina seeing more than 14 inches of rain. However, deficits in soil moisture, stream flow, and short and long-term precipitation continued to worsen in northeast Texas, Arkansas, northern Mississippi, and west Tennessee.

According to U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Meteorologist Brad Rippey, the mild weather has created ideal growing conditions for winter wheat that we have not seen in a while, but unfortunately, that short windfall does not come without any future concerns.

“It does potentially leave the crop vulnerable to future cold outbreaks,” Rippey explained. “That is something we’ll have to keep an eye on as we head into the New Year. If we do get any, even if they are short-lived, sharp cold outbreaks could cause harm to this wheat crop.”

Meanwhile, the milder weather has led to minimal snowpack accumulations in the western U.S.

“With just a few exceptions, we have seen sub-par snowpacks building up so far in our key watershed Western mountain areas,” Rippey continued. “The areas that supply moisture for irrigation and other purposes when we come to the spring and summer of 2024.”

One of those exceptions is parts of California.

“Now, when you look at California, we are coming off that remarkable wet and snowy winter that led to the breaking of the drought; and so, we’re still getting by on some of that moisture,” the U.S. weather expert explained. “But, so far this season, we have seen very little snow accumulating in the Sierra Nevada, which is California’s key watershed area for much of northern and central California. As of mid-December, we have seen less than two inches of water equivalency in the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada that is just about one-fourth of normal for this time of year.”

Numbers should improve from the high-elevation snow system expected later this week for the Sierra Nevada range in California and Nevada.

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