As Brenda Ortiz sees it, successful row-crop farming in the 21st century is all about nuance, namely developing a keener eye for those subtle seasonal and agronomic changes that can offer great promise — or peril — depending how closely producers choose to observe them.

A big part of Ortiz’s career has been helping producers develop a keener eye for these subtle distinctions, though she admits that, in some respects, it hasn’t been easy.

Small wonder why: Farmers, especially row-crop producers, tend to be classic bottom-liners, realists interested only in cold, hard facts — the tangibles.

“It’s difficult to convince farmers to do something that is not tangible,” she says. “Unless something is tied to yields gains or reductions, farmers typically are not going to buy into it.”

Nevertheless, Ortiz is convinced that much of what will define successful farming in the next few decades will be closely bound up with many intangible factor.

Case in point: climate.  Ortiz says it’s often hard getting producers focused on patterns projected to occur months from now, even though she and other scientists from a variety of disciplines already have assembled a strong case demonstrating how these patterns can exert a major influence on their economic bottom line.

This has inspired Ortiz to provide an even more compelling case. Within the last few years, she has invested a big chunk of effort into marshaling facts — tangibles — to underscore why intangibles such as climate are as important to the producer’s bottom line as any other factor.

Ortiz, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and Auburn University assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and Soils, has focused on how the climatic patterns El Niño and La Niña contribute to growing conditions throughout the state.

For starters, research has demonstrated that in any year these climate patterns are not expressed uniformly throughout the state.