The spread of drought conditions into northwest Iowa and southern Minnesota – some of the most productive corn and soybean acreage in the country – has weather and economic analysts worried.

In a recent CME Group Daily Livestock Report, Steve Meyer, President of Paragon Economics, Adel, IA, says the National Weather Service in a recent report in the Des Moines Register indicates that the situation is expected to get worse. USDA’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Seasonal Drought Outlook (http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/index.php) suggests that the western Corn Belt dryness will persist through April and will spread to eastern Nebraska. The outlook also shows signs of continuing and spreading areas of drought in the southwest and southeast – bad news for suffering cattlemen.

On the plus side, conditions have generally improved in the western Corn Belt over the winter months as dry areas have improved in eastern Kansas, Missouri, southeast Nebraska and southern Iowa receiving some much-needed rainfall. The eastern Corn Belt remains in good shape as it pertains to moisture conditions.

Meyer says the Iowa-Minnesota situation is reminiscent of one very scary time in the past – 1988 – when weather conditions were nearly the same as this year, causing a drought that struck Iowa and other major corn-producing areas. Iowa’s average yield in 1988 was 84 bushels per acre, down from 137 in 1987 and 135 in 1986. Minnesota’s average was 74 bushels per acre, down from 127 in 1987 and 122 in 1986. The national corn yield in 1988 was 84.6 bushels per acre, more than 25 bushels lower than the year before and 26% lower than the 1960-2010 trend for 1988 of 113.9 bushels, Meyer says.

Iowa State’s Elwyn Taylor believes the culprit is La Nina, the cooling of Pacific Ocean waters west of South America that began in 2010. If La Nina remains strong through the spring, Taylor estimates that there is only a 1 in 20 chance of getting enough spring rainfall in Iowa.