WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2016 – Forecasters widely expected colder than normal temperatures to persist in the Pacific Ocean in the first half of 2017, bringing about a phenomenon known as La Nina, but those predictions are not being realized, according to USDA officials.
Mark Brusberg, USDA’s deputy chief meteorologist, told Agri-Pulse Tuesday that temperatures in the Pacific had dipped into La Nina levels in recent months, but they have already begun rising, pushing conditions into “neutral” territory.
Ocean temperatures need to drop by an average of half a degree for at least six months to bring about La Nina conditions that can have substantial impacts on farmers in South America and the U.S., Brusberg said, and now it looks like that is not going to happen.
While there isn’t any guarantee of a correlation, a strong La Nina pushes up the odds that South American farmers will suffer drought conditions, Brusberg said. Growers in Argentina and Brazil are planting corn and soybeans now and weather conditions are good, Brusberg said. The failure of La Nina conditions to develop could provide even better conditions in Argentina, and to a lesser extent, Brazil.
From September through November, heavy rains and flooding in some regions of Argentina pushed down soybean planting expectations and threatened production, according to a recent report from USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service. FAS is now predicting that Argentina will produce 55 million tons of soybeans in 2017. That’s down from the roughly 57 million tons in 2016.
A separate FAS report is predicting a bumper corn crop for Argentina. The country is forecast to produce 34 million tons of corn in 2017, up from 28 million tons in 2016.
As of Dec. 22, Argentina’s corn was 67 percent planted and the country’s soybeans were 75 percent planted, Brusberg said.
While La Nina can have an adverse effect of Brazilian crop yields, the impact is usually weaker than what is felt in Argentina, the meteorologist added.
But anything that impacts South America’s crops can also affect U.S. farmers who compete for the same international markets as Argentina and Brazil.
“Whatever happens down there is going to influence our markets and right now we’re looking at big crops coming out of Argentina and Brazil,” Brusberg said in a USDA audio posting.
In the U.S., La Nina episodes are normally associated with a warm and dry winter across the southern states while conditions are colder and wetter over the northern part of the country.
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