Brazil’s tremendous summer crop seems to have slipped into a little stress, and late season crops are likely to lose a little yield and quality this month as relief from dryness is slow in coming.

Brazil planted a huge soybean crop and had nearly ideal crop development conditions over the majority of the summer growing season. That translated into a huge production potential, but along came late January and early February and suddenly the rain spigot was turned off. Soil moisture was plentiful in the last days of January, and when the rainfall first diminished it was scoffed at as being too late in the growing season to seriously harm production. But in the ensuing days of early to mid-February it became clear that a portion of the most immature crops were indeed suffering from the lack of moisture.

The problem in Brazil is not just limited to soybeans and corn. The drying bias has influenced citrus, coffee, cotton, rice and some cocoa. Rainfall in the first 10 days of February in Brazil was less than 25% of normal over a huge amount of farmland from Parana and Paraguay to Tocantins and western Bahia representing more than two thirds of the total crop area. January rainfall was also less than half of normal from northern São Paulo through the heart of Minas Gerais to much of Bahia while areas from Mato Grosso to Goias reported 50% to 75% of normal rainfall.

It is extremely rare for Brazil to experience such a large region of dryness over such a prolonged period of time, and the impact is likely to have a larger impact than some might expect. Dryness like this has occurred a number of times in the past across the U.S. Midwest in the month of August. In a few short weeks a tremendous looking soybean crop may be reduced significantly in both yield and quality. Smaller bean sizes are the normal impact of late season dryness and bean oil is often lower well below average. These are expected impacts for this year’s late soybean crop.

Another problem in Brazil relates to the second season corn crop. Brazil plants two corn crops — one in the early spring and the other in mid-summer, often immediately following the early soybean harvest. This year’s early corn likely performed well in the favorable rainfall and temperature environment that prevailed from October through early January. The crop likely has yielded well, and the recent dryness has supported early short-season varieties. The longer main season corn crop may be filling and maturing and may suffer a little decline in quality and yield because of late season dryness. The second season corn crop, however, is normally planted late in January and February.

The lack of moisture in Brazil likely has left the ground a little too dry for planting, germination or emergence of second season corn. Some producers will wait for rain, but as each week goes by without rain the greater the potential is for farmers to decide not to plant. Eventually, the planting delays will put crops at risk of moisture shortages during reproduction (assuming it rains significantly prior to reproduction) and for southern producers it raises the potential for frost and freezes to negatively impact the crop prior to full maturation.

Most of the longer range forecast models have suggested an increased likelihood of showers and thunderstorms would occur in late February, but rainfall might still be lighter than usual. A continuation of below average precipitation for crops that need a general soaking of rain and that already are running too dry does not bode well for production.

Again, the problem is not just a corn and soybean issue. It is likely to adversely affect sugarcane significantly with reduced cane heights and lower production because of the situation and coffee cherry sizes will be greatly reduced and quality lowered, changing the outlook for consumer prices after this year’s crop is harvested. Brazil has the world’s largest coffee crop and a tremendous sugarcane crop, and both are vulnerable to some losses.

World Weather, Inc. believes improvement in rainfall will occur before February comes to an end, but it will leave much more desired, and the prospects for many crops will be turned lower because of the situation. Soybeans may be least affected, with the second season corn crop, coffee and sugarcane at the top of the list of potential production losers.

Argentina weather favorable

In the meantime, Argentina had its weather related issues earlier this summer. Weather conditions in recent weeks have trended much more favorable with timely rainfall helping to rebound crop development. Soybeans were never hurt by heat and dryness as severely as early season corn and sunseed. The early crops never recovered from the stress and production is definitely down. Soybeans, however, were planted after the first wave of hot, dry, weather and were stressed for a little while in late December and early January, but have seen timely rainfall since then that has reinforced production.

The outlook for Argentina weather still is looking mostly good for the next couple of weeks. There may be a new bout of drier weather a little later in the growing season, but it should not have a tremendous impact on production potentials since crops will be more advanced in their development by the time the next bout of drying has an impact.

Declines in U.S. wheat conditions

In addition to weather trends in South America, an early month crop report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested a significant decline in wheat conditions occurred across U.S. hard red winter wheat country. This decline in conditions “may” have been an overreaction to recent bitter cold and snow free conditions. Without a doubt, U.S. wheat in Nebraska, Kansas, northeastern Colorado, a part of Oklahoma and in a few soft wheat production areas from Ohio to Tennessee were vulnerable to winterkill conditions multiple times this winter. Crop damage likely has occurred, but it is still much too difficult to determine how much production loss, if any, has actually occurred.

Wheat, like all grasses subjected to bitter cold conditions without snow cover, will turn brown — as if it were dead. However, the brown color may be quite misleading, and some crops may survive the cold and green up nicely in the spring. There is a need to determine how much winterkill has occurred and how much crops have only been injured. Injured wheat will attempt to set new tillers in the spring, and if weather conditions are mild and moist for a little while tillering may be quite significant.

A badly injured crop from bitter cold may make an amazing comeback if conditions are just right in the spring. For these reasons, World Weather, Inc. believes the crop ratings fall in January may have been a little exaggerated, and conditions may still improve if timely rain and seasonably mild weather can occur for a while this spring. That is true for crops only injured by the cold and dry conditions. Obviously, winterkill means death to the plants if that has occurred in a significant manner the nation’s wheat crop will end up smaller. There is just not enough evidence to make an accurate assessment of the situation.

It will be imperative to assess crop conditions in late February and March as the crop greens up or fails to green up, as the case may be. That will be the first opportunity to make a good judgment call as to the production potential for this year’s crop.