“The sky is falling. The sky is falling,” said Henny Penny, otherwise known as Chicken Little in the famous early 19th century folk tale brought to light by the Brothers Grimm.
The chicken got bumped on the head by a fallen apple and jumped to the conclusion that the sky was falling. Some folks in Brazil may be hollering in a similar manner after one of the driest Januarys in recent memory. Brazil is normally a very wet place during January, and in some years farmers are lucky to get in their fields to harvest early season crops. This year there is no challenge to getting in the fields, but there is great concern about what they bring out of the fields.
Rainfall during January has been well below average, and that has raised concern about production of early-season soybeans and full-season crops. The dryness also is raising some concern about the planting, emergence and establishment of second-season crops, like corn and cotton. A large part of Brazil from eastern Bolivia and northern Paraguay to western and northern Minas Gerais and northward to Bahia and southern Tocantins had received less than half of normal rainfall in the first three weeks of January. Rainfall since that time has not been much improved.
Meanwhile, many areas in northeastern Brazil and a few from Bolivia into northern Mato Grosso do Sul have received less than 25% of normal rainfall. For Brazil that is significant amount of moisture, and if the trend does not reverse soon there will be greater losses in production.
The below-average precipitation has occurred because of high pressure aloft anchored over open water in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean and parts of Minas Gerais with a lobe of high pressure that extended southwest into Paraguay and Bolivia. The persistence of this feature in January has prevented the sky from falling in a sense. Actually, there has been nearly nothing falling from the sky, and that has started many producers and traders into worrying that summer rainfall is over and the nation’s summer crops are headed for disaster. In reality, the dry bias is about to run its course, and a change returning rainfall to the region is forthcoming in February.
The real question to be asked is “How much damage has the January dryness done to total production this year?” The answer remains to be seen, but the dry weather occurred after early-season crops were done with reproduction and were being harvested. Some of those early-season crops suffered from a three-week bout of dryness of their own in southern Brazil in early to mid-December. That bout of dryness reduced yields for many crops by 5% to 20%, and a few producers reported more than 30% yield reductions. Good crop weather elsewhere in Brazil kept production perking along relatively well, and some of the production cut from the southwest may have been made up by good-yielding crops elsewhere.
January’s three to four weeks of dryness has hit another group of crops during their reproductive cycle. The full season crops were reproducing and filling this month, and that makes the dry weather bias quite untimely once again. Additional yield losses have occurred, but rain deficits have varied greatly just like the soil types in Brazil vary greatly.
Crops produced on the lighter or sandier soil have suffered most from dryness this summer. Most of the crops produced in the heavier soil have benefited greatly from favorable subsoil moisture, which has managed to remain during both the December and January bouts of dryness. That greatly complicates the calculations for production cuts.
Certainly, the January dryness must abate soon or there will be no question about how significant the production cuts will be. For now, though, the issue is still debatable because of adequate subsoil moisture and the lateness of the soybean growing season. There is actually more concern over second-season corn production than there is for soybeans because of the advanced state of most soybean development. Second-season corn is planted after early-season soybeans are harvested. Field conditions are too dry in many areas to support the best germination, emergence or establishment of second-season corn, cotton and other crops.
World Weather, Inc. believes a change in weather patterns is coming soon. The change anticipated includes a breakdown of the high-pressure lobe diminishing rainfall across interior southern portions of Brazil. That breakdown is expected at the end of February’s first week of weather. Rainfall should begin to increase in the second week of February, but it will not be back to normal until late in the month and in March. The returning rainfall should be well-timed to stimulate better second-season crop planting, emergence and establishment.
Even though fieldwork and crop development begin so sluggishly there will be adequate time for crops to catch up in their development and improve establishment prior to the reproductive season for late-season crops in April and May.
A sufficient amount of time for improved crop development is expected and what looks like “an end of the world as we know it scenario” (the sky is falling) will turn out to be a relatively good finish to a rather unusual rainy season. Be careful here…..World Weather, Inc. is not implying normal production for 2019, but the disastrous production year that was touted by some forecasters may not come to fruition. Production cuts are inevitable and already have been confirmed, but a true disaster in production should be avoided by the resuming February rainfall. A close watch on the situation is still warranted because this little chicken is still a meteorologist and he cannot be trusted any more than Henny Penny.
In the meantime, there is little good news for North American producers and traders. The sudden stratospheric warming that recently has occurred in the atmosphere will provide a few weeks of very cold weather across central and eastern North America. Why is that good news, you ask? Because it disrupts the persistent wet weather bias that has been plaguing the Midwest this winter. The pattern was not expected to breakdown through the winter or early spring, resulting in a high potential for spring flooding and delayed fieldwork. Now that a persistent northwesterly flow pattern aloft has been established and been determined to persist through February that flood risk has been greatly reduced.
Less frequent storms producing heavy rain and snow will now occur over the next few weeks allowing river and stream flows to subside and to reduce some of the runoff underway. The key to North America weather is going to hinge on the end of the northwesterly flow pattern aloft. Once the frequent bouts of cold quit affecting central and eastern North America a rainy pattern will resume, and the longer it takes for that pattern to resume the less time that pattern will have to prevail. That could translate into better-than-expected spring planting conditions.