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Uncertainty mounts over S American corn, bean crops as La Nina arrives

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Uncertainty mounts over S American corn, bean crops as La Nina arrives

Highlights

Argentina crop yields fell in most La Nina years

Argentina, Brazil soybean, corn planting already behind

Further decline in rainfall can hit crop yields

New Delhi — The La Nina event is expected to pile pressure on South American corn and soybean crops in the next few months, after persistent dry conditions in the region earlier continue to weigh on crop prospects, forcing farmers to delay planting and adding uncertainty against a backdrop of market volatility.

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If the past is any indication, the arrival of La Nina is not good news for South American corn and soybean producers, an analysis of the last 25 years of data shows.

Generally, Southeast Asia, South Africa, India and Australia receive above-normal rainfall during a La Nina event, and drier weather is seen in Argentina, Europe, Brazil and the southern US.

La Nina is associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

"A new set of model runs predicts moderate or possibly strong La Nina conditions through 2020 and most of winter, with a 90% probability for La Nina for winter," the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society said in a statement on Oct. 23.

In the last 25 years, La Nina conditions that persisted for at least five consecutive months occurred in 11 crop years.

Out of the 11 crop years when La Nina was observed between 1995-96 and 2019-20, corn crop yields in Argentina dropped for a total of 10 crop years compared with yields in the year prior to La Nina, while in case of soybeans, yield losses were seen for more than nine crop years, according to an analysis of data from weather and crop agencies.

In the last 25 years when La Nina arrived, corn crop yields in Brazil dropped during five crop years compared with the yield prior to the La Nina year, while soybean yields dropped five times.

While the arrival of La Nina does not always lead to lower yields, which is typically a result of low rainfall, data analysis by S&P Global Platts shows a strong correlation in the case of Argentina.

Impact in Argentina, Brazil

A lack of adequate rainfall in Argentina this year has already forced many farmers to shift to planting late corn instead of the early crop.

"We are expecting this [drought] condition to worsen during February," Esteban J. Copati, head of the Agricultural Estimates Department of the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange (BAGE), told Platts in early October. "For that reason, farmers have shifted in favor of late-planted corn (December-January) covering almost 49.9% of the estimated planted area for the 2020-21 season in order to avoid setting the critical stages of yield determination during scarce water availability and high temperatures."

During the last corn season, the proportion of late corn was closer to 37% of the total area planted.

In Argentina, early corn is normally planted in September-October and harvested in April-May, while the second corn crop is usually planted in December-January and harvested in June-July.

Argentina's corn production in 2020-21 is likely to be 47 million mt, down 8.7% year on year, Copati said, citing unfavorable weather conditions.

Argentina's total planted area for corn for the 2020-21 marketing year was 1.7 million hectares as of Oct. 21, down 23% year on year, BAGE data showed.

Soybean planting in Brazil has been also delayed by a lack of sufficient rains, with sowing complete in 23% of the projected area as of Oct. 22, compared with 32% during the same period last year and a five-year average of 34%, according to AgRural.

A delay in soybean planting could shorten the window for corn sowing that follows the oilseeds harvest.

Although Brazil's national agricultural agency, Companhia Nacional de Abastecimento (Conab), has forecast Brazil's corn production at a record 105.167 million mt in 2020-21, up 2.6% year on year, Brazil's corn area is projected at 18.48 million hectares, down 0.2% year on year.

Weather outlook

A stretch of the dry weather conditions in Brazil could bring down corn production considerably. With La Nina arriving, the rainfall forecast for South America is also a cause for concern.

"Precipitation forecasts for the coming season are consistent with typical La Nina teleconnections," IRI said in its latest forecast. "In Nov-Jan, strongly enhanced probabilities of below-normal precipitation are forecast for Mexico and the Southern US, Southeast South America."

La Nina has added another layer of uncertainty this season to the corn market, already dealing with high domestic prices in Argentina and Brazil, lower production in major producers the US and Ukraine, and unusual traction seen in Chinese demand.