Soybean harvesting normally occurs in January, but this year’s delayed start to the harvest season had some of the crop maturing and being harvested in late January and February. 
Brazil agriculture continues to grow from year to year with a tremendous amount of grain and oilseed production. The nation has become quite a specialist in double cropping — a practice that allows the Brazil farmer to plant two major crops in the same growing season. The reason for this is the extra-long warm season that the nation enjoys, and when early soybean planting occurs in late September and October there is plenty of time for the crop to be harvested in January and February with an opportunity to plant a second crop of either corn or cotton.

The key to successful double cropping in Brazil is all about weather, which should not come as a surprise because that is the case in all agricultural areas. However, if seasonal rains occur early, the first soybean crop can get planted quickly and be harvested in sufficient time to get a second crop of corn or cotton in the ground and developing while the rainy season is still prevailing.

Brazil’s rainy season begins in October and usually lasts into April. Planting a second crop of corn or cotton in January and February usually leaves sufficient time for crops to emerge, establish and reproduce while the rainy season is still in place. Crop filling and maturation then occur after seasonal rains subside, but there is normally sufficient moisture in the soil to carry on normal crop development, resulting in favorable yields and crop quality.

This year’s weather has not been following the “textbook” version for rainfall in Brazil. First, seasonal rains were delayed in the spring so that the early crop was either planted in dry soil or was delayed until seasonal rains began. For some of the soybean crop planting, delays lasted three to four weeks. Soybean harvesting normally occurs in January, but this year’s delayed start to the harvest season had some of the crop maturing and being harvested in late January and February. A bout of rainy weather occurred about the same time that second season corn planting began, further delaying some of the planting until late February and early March.

These late planted corn and cotton fields will be more dependent than usual upon late season rainfall to support their best yield potential. In a “normal” year when planting occurs on time, a monsoonal rainfall pattern that diminishes in April rarely has much impact on production. However, in years like this when planting is a few weeks late for some production areas, there is a risk that seasonal rains that end normally will leave behind a moisture deficit in the soil when crops begin reproduction. That is today’s dilemma.

Brazil weather map
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Rainfall has been unusually light in April this year from Paraguay and northwestern Rio Grande do Sul through Santa Catarina and Paraguay to Mato Grosso do Sul, Parana and Sao Paulo. Rainfall in these areas has been well below half of normal and some areas have reported less than 25% of the usual moisture. Having dryness for a little while in early April is not usually a problem if scattered showers and thunderstorms return with a few frontal systems that move into the region from Argentina later in the month. However, that is not the case this year.

Argentina had been dealing with one of its worst droughts in history — at least from January through March. During that period, many crops lost 30% of their production potential and that has had an impact on the total South America crop and to a certain degree the export business as well. April weather suddenly changed in Argentina and rain has been falling more frequently. The moisture was needed to break the drought and to restore soil moisture for winter wheat and a few late season crops, but the rainfall pattern has become stagnant, resulting in multiple rain events over the heart of Argentina. Normally, storm systems move in and out of Argentina routinely during April, reducing the potential for moisture surpluses and sending some timely rain events into Brazil for its late season and second season crops.

The anomalous weather in South America has begun to prevail a little too long. Dryness in interior southern Brazil has begun to fester a little too long and topsoil conditions are trending much drier. Subsoil moisture is still favorable in southern Brazil but with reproduction of late planted corn expected next month, there is a growing need for significant rainfall to stave off a stressful reproduction and filling environment that might reduce yields and quality.

Most of the computer weather forecast models have suggested Argentina’s blocking weather pattern with frequent rain will prevail through the first week of May and that means interior southern Brazil’s dryness also will prevail for at least that much longer. The situation puts pressure on rainfall in the remainder of May. Timely rain will be imperative to support corn as it reproduces and fills, but normally rainfall does not occur that often or very significantly in May. The situation raises worry in the marketplace that second-season corn in Brazil, which is already advertised to be smaller because of reduced plantings, may soon face a further reduction in production because of limited rainfall during reproduction.


United States slow to plant corn

In the meantime, in the United States early corn planting is behind the normal pace. A cool and somewhat wet start to spring has fieldwork drifting behind the usual pace. This environment, if it prevails much longer, might raise concern about corn yields. There is still plenty of time to get the corn crop planted, but if fieldwork drifts or continues far enough behind the usual pace there will be some market chatter about the potential for a smaller corn crop. World Weather, Inc. does not expect serious planting delays to take place, but a new wave of frequent rain expected in early May could setback or induce some additional delays in farming activity before the weather improves.

A combined impact of reduced corn and sorghum production in Argentina because of drought, a smaller Safrinha corn crop in Brazil and some increasing worry over U.S. corn production might soon provide some impetus for higher futures prices. The situation is not likely to be dramatic because the U.S. farmers are sure to get into their fields eventually to get this year’s crop planted and there is still some potential for rain in southern Brazil during May. However, Brazil’s May rainfall is unlikely to be abundant and that could lead to some reduction in yield for at least a part of the corn crop. There is also some potential for U.S. summer weather to become a little less than ideal, which also may reduce production from that region. All the world would then need is a little corn production trouble in China, India, Russia or Europe this summer and there will be room for some higher futures prices.

Early indications suggest summer weather will be good in Europe, but there is some potential for dryness in a part of Russia and possibly China. Neither of these drier-biased regions will be large, but they could have some influence on the bottom line to corn output. A close monitoring of this commodity is recommended due to the situations noted above – at least for a while.