Brazil traders, farmers nervous over persistent lack of rainfall
A dry mid-September in Brazil’s coffee, sugarcane, citrus, corn and soybean production region has many a producer and commodity trader a bit concerned about the 2017-18 crop year.

KANSAS CITY — Rain continues fleeting from farmers in Brazil, but Sept. 15 is really the first day in which planting would normally begin. Having 10 days of rain-free weather will wear on the psyche of most producers and some traders, but it may not be the “end of the world.” October showers are expected with slowly increasing rainfall from late October through November.

A dry mid-September in Brazil’s coffee, sugarcane, citrus, corn and soybean production region has many a producer and commodity trader a bit concerned about the 2017-18 crop year. However, September rainfall can be erratic like this. That is why in the “olden days” farmers only produced one crop in Brazil, and they always waited upon the seasonal onset of monsoon moisture that typically occurs in October. However, back in the “olden days” Mato Grosso was not the primary soybean producing state and the impact of delayed seasonal rainfall was often insignificant because the main production areas were further south where rainfall usually comes in October.

Now that Mato Grosso is the biggest soybean producing state in Brazil and because it plants two crops each year, delays in annual rainfall are rarely tolerable and definitely raise issue with the success of both crops.

Today’s forecast models suggested some showers would begin in the latter days of September. World Weather, Inc. believes the precipitation will continue to increase in early October. However, the slow start to the season does raise some potential problems with getting the early soybean crop planted early enough to assure a timely harvest that will leave sufficient time for corn and cotton to be planted normally early in 2018. 

La Niña to blame?

La Niña-like conditions are getting some of the blame for delayed rainfall in Brazil. What is most important to note is that if we are going to see a full blown La Niña event, there are two other issues that need to be reviewed.

First, beyond the slow start of the monsoon season there is usually an onslaught of frequent moderate to heavy rainfall in the first calendar quarter of the year in which La Niña exists. If that occurs this year, it could result in a wet harvest season for late planted early soybeans. The rainy weather also could create some further delay in the planting of second season (Safrinha) crops.

The other issue that sometimes occurs in La Niña years is that the rainy season lasts a little longer than usual, and if that is the case, some of these delays to planting soybeans and the planting of second season crops may not be the disaster that is feared. Late planting of Safrinha crops might not end in a significant problem if late season rains linger for a longer period of time.

To complicate matters a little more, the coffee, sugarcane and citrus crops were subjected to unusually significant rainfall in mid-August. The rainfall was significant enough to induce coffee flowering and to stimulate some new growth in sugarcane and citrus. Very little, if any, citrus flowering was suspected, but flowering of coffee trees occurred from Parana into São Paulo, and there were some reports of localized flowering in southern Minas Gerais coffee areas, as well. Those coffee flowers have aborted, and because Brazil production was supposed to be huge this year, the loss of some potential cherries raises the potential for lower yields since the trees are not always successful in replacing early aborted flowers.

Weather stressing crops

The recent warm and dry weather in coffee, citrus and sugarcane areas has stressed crops a little more than usual because of the favorable rainfall that occurred in August that stimulated a little new growth. The stress occurring now seems to be a little more serious in some areas because of the false start on rainfall. In the meantime, there are other reports of withering coffee trees and leaf droppage. Some of this withering and leave droppage is normal for plants stressed by dryness. It is a natural way to conserve moisture. However, if the dryness lasts too long, the crops will not be able to support cherry development when seasonal rains finally arrive because the plants will be busy restoring leaf mass instead of developing cherries.

Brazil’s climate is a wet/dry one in which the winter receives very little rain while the summer is very wet. The environment is similar to that of India in many respects. However, rainfall during the winter is rarely enough to counter evaporation, making the significance of the past 90 days of dryness much less than one might imagine. The rain that fell last month has complicated the situation for the winter soft commodities, and they will be more seriously stressed until rain falls. But for the corn and soybean crop the situation can turn around in a flash with the onset of seasonal rainfall.

For whatever reason, there is not likely to be any change in the dry situation for the next 10 days. After that, World Weather, Inc. believes the weather pattern will begin evolving as it would in a normal year around mid-September. What that means is that there will be a period of erratic rainfall in the last days of September and early October that will play on one’s emotions, raising the hope for rainfall on some days and dashing those hopes on others.

The second half of October and especially late October and early November is when the rainfall is expected to be more routine.

The delay described is similar to what happens in many La Niña years, and even though no La Niña event is currently under way, the results could be quite similar just off of La Niña-like conditions.

Patience is needed

The point of this article is to be patient. Rain will evolve, but it will not occur when some producers and traders are looking for it. And, just because the rainfall begins late does not necessarily dictate a smaller crop of soybeans or smaller crop of corn and cotton that follows. Much will be determined about the size of these crops by the distribution of rainfall later this year and into 2018.

Coffee, on the other hand, has likely lost a little production potential because premature flowering and aborted flowers. Sugarcane has been stressed and can still perform well if the rainy season evolves normally in October. Citrus trees still have much of their production potential because flowering should not have occurred very significantly from mid-August rainfall.

World Weather, Inc. still believes that the 2017-18 growing season in Brazil will be successful except possibly in the far south where some dryness may evolve in the first quarter of 2018.