When Atypical Becomes Typical, How Can You Best Forecast?

In farming, we tend to use the term “typical” rather loosely given all the uncontrolled variables provided by mother nature. Iowa typically gets about 5 inches of rain in June – but how and when that rain falls can have drastically different effects on the crop.

Even with our lackadaisical use of typical, this planting season is proving to be anything but.

The 2019 planting season is even making headlines in the mainstream media – Minnesota Public Radio discussed the closing planting window and its effect on Minnesota farmers, Washington Post talking about the effects of extreme weather across the Midwest while Bloomberg notes that U.S. Corn planting is the slowest on record for this time of year.

Organizations that typically rely on modeling are at a loss. There is no model built for a year like this because it is an extreme. However, extreme weather seems to be more typical than we’d like.

For the past three years, Geosys has been a contributing expert for the CyclOpe Yearbook – an annual report which provides an analysis of global raw materials and commodities markets headed by Phillippe Chalmin. Geosys provides a global review of the climate, along with a second review specific to climate and major crops – here are some clips that speak to the atypical weather from the 2018 report:

  • Since the start of the twenty-first century, every year has been among the warmest since recordings began, and the period since 2010 includes the warmest five years ever recorded. These figures underline a long-term warming trend, which is much more significant and has potentially greater impact on meteorological conditions than annual records.
  • Heat, cold, heavy rainfall and strong winds… the beginning of 2018 has, throughout the world, been marked by extreme events, with impacts on transport, energy and health.
  • This brief survey clearly reveals, once again, an exceptional year with world grain production equal to records set in 2016. It also illustrates the impact that agronomic research and varietal selection now have on the resilience of arable crops to climate hazards.
  • In 2017 [North America], although cumulative precipitation from 1 July to 30 September was 60% lower than 2016 and 30% lower than 2007, cumulative NDVI vegetation indices remained equivalent to 2016 and 6% higher than 2007. Similarly, in most of the corn belt, average vegetation index values from 15 July to 30 September were equivalent to, or even higher than, 2016, a record year for production. These data points attest to the excellent performance of the crops during the second half of the cycle and, from October, pointed to a good production outlook. The performance of soybeans, which was sown later than corn, was also shown by the high NDVI values observed in August and September.

The less typical the season, the harder it becomes to forecast because most forecasts rely on models. Models rely on known patterns because they are built by learning from records of past years data – to the extent that we have accurate records of all the parameters that can impact a crop. Models do not perform well when parameters of the current year are outside the range of known situations.
On the other hand, monitoring and benchmarking crops rely on measuring the actual performance of the crops.

When we monitor a field, or all the fields in a county, we can measure how crops are reacting to the current conditions. Benchmarking allows us to compare the current growth cycle to previous years. While no one year will ever perfectly match another with regards to the combination of all the weather parameters than can impact a crop (and their interactions), monitoring performance of crops of the current year and comparing to multiple years of past performance supports a better evaluation of crop outcomes.

Through our Agriquest® global monitoring tool, we are empowering our customers with monitoring and benchmarking data – giving them access to scientific-grade data before reports from the USDA and other organizations are available. We are monitoring the world daily and giving our customers an analysis of the regions critical to their business. Start your free trial today to unlock the potential of crop monitoring for your business.