Hay growers in the Upper Midwest can expect relatively tame weather during the 2014 growing season, says Elwynn Taylor, climatologist with Iowa State University Extension.

“The way things are shaping up, the weather should be slightly on the favorable side for both forage and row crops in this part of the country this summer,” he adds.

While a cooler-than-normal spring has set back corn and soybean planting in many parts of the region, the alfalfa crop appears to be in decent shape. “Corn begins to grow at 50 degrees,” says Taylor. “But alfalfa can grow once the temperature reaches 35 degrees. In most parts of the Midwest, there has been some growth.”

This spring’s ample precipitation has also benefitted forage crops. “There are a few dry areas, but in most of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, along with the southern quarter of Minnesota, we’ve seen normal to above precipitation for May.”

The absence of a strong La Niña weather pattern heading into the season is a key factor in Taylor’s growing-season outlook. “That’s a great relief,” he says. A La Niña, characterized by lower-than-normal surface-water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean, typically brings dry weather.

 “Over the past four years, we’ve been in the grips of the strongest La Niña since the 1950s, and it’s produced … a widespread drought that began in the eastern U.S. and worked its way west. This year, we’re back at more normal conditions, with more normal risk.”

Later in the season, Taylor says, there’s a growing probability that an El Niño will develop by fall. An El Niño typically offers warmer-than-normal temperatures in much of the country and more moisture in southern regions.

“It may arrive a little too late to be of much benefit for corn (grain) yields,” he says. “But it will greatly benefit forages. The later fall harvest should be quite good and forages should head into the winter strong, well-watered and healthy. In general, an El Niño is the Midwestern farmer’s friend.”

Hear an updated, in-depth weather forecast from Taylor the first day of the June 25-26 Hay & Forage Expo in Boone, IA. For more on the Expo, offering field demonstrations of the latest forage technologies, visit hayexpo.com.