Examining historical weather data to offer predictions for the near future
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com
As part of the 2021 Great Ontario Yield Tour organized by Farms.com, Dr. Elwynn Taylor, climatologist and agriculture meteorologist with Iowa State University in Ames Iowa, provided his analysis of how crops have been impacted by the weather over the centuries, and how it provides a mathematical peek into the crystal ball for future predictions.
Key to his analysis, is the 89-year cycle. Regardless of whether it’s a good year or a bad year, Dr. Taylor found that the same results occurred 89 years previous, and a further 89 years before that.
Not only based on crop harvests since the 1800s, Dr.Taylor also backed up his data with the physical evidence of tree rings. Trees, as evidenced by its rings, grow wider in warm, wet years, but are conversely thinner when the weather is colder and drier. When the stressful experience of a drought hits, a tree may not show growth at all, instead expending its energy only to survive.
Dr. Taylor discussed the Benner Cycle, created in 1885 by American farmer Samuel Benner (1832-1913). Benner, a prosperous farmer, was wiped out by the economic 1873 Panic and sought to determine the causes of fluctuations in markets.
Relative to crops, he discovered that weather cycles were the cause, publishing his results in his book, Benner’s Prophecies.
Going back to data collected just before the 1800s, Benner determined the impact of the dry/wet cycle of weather, and then postulated through the year 2000 just what its impact would be. Although not Nostradamus, Dr. Taylor showed that the predicted Benner Cycle was accurate +/- to one year.
While an 89-year cycle spread out over 220+ years is not irrefutable evidence of the cycle, Dr. Taylor’s research into weather and its effect on crops shows that both he and Brenner may indeed be on to something poignant.
In Dr. Taylor’s home State of Iowa between the years 1900-2000, he also noted an approximate 18-year cycle where there was a one-in-three chance of a drought for Iowa corn harvests. For the other years, the odds of a drought dropped to one-in-12 or to a one-in-13 chance.
For reference, Dr. Taylor pointed to farmer Brenner’s calculation pre-1900 that the average drought occurred every 18.6 years.
Dr. Taylor’s data showed that weather volatility, IE Climate Risk in agriculture, is likely to be greater over the next 20 years across North America and cautioned farmers that risk management would be of the utmost importance to prevent disaster.
The Dust Bowl Cometh?
Following the evidence trail, Dr. Taylor noted that the worst part of the 89-year cycles occurred in 1846-7, followed by the “Dust Bowl” years of 1935-6, he then extrapolated that the next most volatile year is scheduled to begin in 2025—IE, the worst year for crops in both the US and Canada.
The Dust Bowl of the 1930s was an agricultural and environmental disaster. Dry dusty windstorms blew away the nutrient-rich topsoil from millions of acres of American farms in the central and southwestern interior. It destroyed the livelihood of farmers and migrant workers across Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
But could it happen again? Could it get worse than the summer of 2021 which has proven to be quite harmful to western Canadian crop farms?
While Dr. Taylor was unable to express his American data across all of Canada’s provinces and territories and was unsure of the cycle’s impact east of Quebec, he was confident that the 89-year wet/dry cycle would negatively influence Ontario, Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan (to Regina), with the year 2025 being the most extreme of the current 89-year cycle.
Watch Dr. Taylor’s entire presentation discussing the 220-plus years of historical data to backstop his weather-related agriculture prognosis.