Brazil traders, farmers nervous over persistent lack of rainfall
Rain in the second half of October could still have a positive impact on production in center south Brazil.

KANSAS CITY — An impressive first few days of October brought good soaking rains to many center south crop areas in Brazil. The moisture was sufficient to saturate the topsoil briefly and to induce a flurry of early season planting of grain and oilseed crops from Parana to southern Minas Gerais and northward into a part of Goias and Mato Grosso do Sul. Rainfall was more restricted in Mato Grosso, the nation’s largest soybean producing state, and nearly two weeks of drying since that time has led to planting delays and the withering of some early emerged crops due to warm and hot temperatures.

The moisture abundance that came in early October in center south Brazil was sufficient to support early soybean and widespread corn planting. Some rice and cotton planting evolved, and new season crop development in sugarcane, citrus and southern coffee production areas began aggressively. Many flowering trees presented a full flush of blooms recently, and life in Brazil was looking pretty good. However, the rainfall that came in early October was disassociated with the annual monsoon flow that carries moisture south from the Amazon River Basin.

As the days passed in October it became more and more obvious that seasonal rains had not evolved, and the rain in early October was a freakish event that saved the nation from a much more severely dry start to the spring growing season. Now, worry continues to mount over the lack of monsoonal moisture and forecasts of restricted rainfall into late October.

Recent hot temperatures contributed only more worry and stress for traders, producers and crops. Temperatures were soaring into the 30s and lower 40s Celsius (upper 80s through the 90s Fahrenheit with extremes to 109) during mid-month. Normal high temperatures should be in the upper middle 20s through the lower 30s Celsius or upper 70s through the 80s to the lower 90s Fahrenheit. The heat will prevail as long as the monsoon flow from the Amazon Basin remains lacking.

Dryness in Brazil has occurred periodically in the past, but the nation is quite often too wet, and many of the “drier” years still generate a routinely occurring rainfall pattern that promotes high yields. Years ago, when Brazil only produced one crop of soybeans and corn, delayed seasonal rainfall had little impact since there was rarely a problem with waiting a few weeks for improved rainfall and soil moisture. That does not work quite so well anymore because of the more aggressive production that occurs in Brazil during more recent years. Early soybeans are planted in mid- to late September and October followed by a second season crop of corn or cotton. In the meantime, a full season corn and soybean crop also is produced. Waiting on delayed seasonal rainfall for double planted crop areas can raise a production risk, especially for second season crops, which could potentially be planted late enough following early soybeans that the rainy season abates in the autumn before second season crops have reproduced.

This year’s delay in annual rainfall is being blamed on La Niña conditions, which began evolving aggressively in late September and early October. However, changes in sea surface temperatures recently have suggested the strengthening trend for La Niña is — at least temporarily — subsiding. Some recent warming of ocean surface temperatures have implied the mechanism for delaying Brazil seasonal rainfall may be easing, and if that is true, some timely rain should begin again soon.

Rain in the second half of October could still have a positive impact on production in center south Brazil because that region was just beginning to trend too dry near mid-month. The first half of October was a good time to get some crops planted, and if rain resumes in late October and continues routinely in November, the potential impact on production may not be significant. The only exception will be in Mato Grosso because much of that state never received significant rainfall like areas to the south. The area has been struggling with heat and dryness ever since the beginning of October.

Some of the early planted crop in Mato Grosso likely emerged and withered in the heat and dryness. Root systems of seedlings are not significant enough to tap in subsoil moisture to withstand early season heat and dryness. Some of the most negatively affected crops in Mato Grosso and neighboring states likely have experienced some withering. Replanting may be needed once rain evolves and becomes more routine.

World Weather, Inc. believes rain will increase in the last days of October and become more routine in the first half of November. That should be sufficient to support many of the center south crops in a favorable manner with good yield potentials still possible. Center west crops, however, already have been delayed by dryness a little too long and some production changes may occur. Farmers may proceed with their previous plans to get this first crop in the ground and fully developed in a beneficial manner, but changes may be necessary for the second season plantings depending on weather conditions over the next few months and in particular January and February, when the harvest of early season crops evolves and the planting of second season crops begins. Some switching to shorter second season varieties may be needed if the first crop of soybeans is not harvested until later cuts in second season production if some producers decide to not plant a second crop at all.

In the meantime, monsoonal rainfall is expected to kick in during the last days of October and especially November. The rains may be a little weaker than usual. There are some scientists and analysts researching to see whether weak or marginal La Niña years lead to more erratic rainfall that can harm production. The research will be a “work in progress” for this year, but the evidence is rising that very weak La Niña conditions are expected this year or perhaps only La Niña-like conditions will evolve.

In the meantime, worry over early season Argentine weather has begun to wane a little bit because of a favorable mix of rain and sunshine recently. The nation needs this trend to continue while temperatures are consistently warm. The weakening trend in La Niña development would be a blessing for Argentina since that nation has a tendency to become a little too dry during La Niña events, and that often hurts early corn and some sunseed production. A breakdown in La Niña conditions might help provide a better mix of rainfall and sunshine even if there is a slightly drier-than-usual bias this year.

South Africa and Australia summer crop areas also were expected to benefit from La Niña conditions in 2017-18 with more routinely occurring rainfall. If La Niña conditions weaken too much, both countries could slip back into a slightly less wet forecast, which might negatively impact the yields of some crops.