South American farmers are frustrated to say the least and it is not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Weather conditions in the last quarter of 2020 were not nearly good enough to support the large volume of grain and oilseeds that Argentina and Brazil have become accustomed to producing. The situation is still salvageable, but Argentina must start getting routine rainfall immediately and it must continue through February.

The potential for that kind of change in Argentina is slim — at least through January. Brazil, on the other hand, has seen its worst weather pass and the first month of the new year will likely present the best rainfall of the season for the center-west and center-south production areas. Unfortunately for both countries, La Niña’s influence will continue.

Classic La Niña conditions during December and January usually include abundant rain from Mato Grosso and Tocantins through Goias to Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and northern Parana, while far southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay and eastern Argentina struggle with below-average precipitation. This traditional La Niña pattern began to evolve in the latter part of December and is expected to dominate January even though La Niña is very near its peak of influence on the world. These conditions will help to induce the best 30 days of weather so far this season in center-west and center-south Brazil.

However, southern Brazil will be falling back into a drier-than-usual mode and that could contribute to lighter-than-usual yields that other areas in Brazil already are facing because of delayed early season precipitation. This year’s lack of moisture from late September through November in some areas of Brazil hurt crop production. Soybean production, even though it has been hurt, could still recover nicely in January if weather conditions are close to ideal. Most of the soybean crop in Brazil is flowering, setting pods and filling pods. Routinely occurring rainfall through January could work wonders in supporting the best potential production after a stressful start to the growing season.

Rio Grande do Sul, Uruguay, southern Paraguay, Santa Catarina, and parts of Parana may still be facing some erratic rainfall and warm temperatures in January. If that pattern persists, it could shave off a little more yield, forcing the bottom line to Brazil production a little lower. Most likely all other areas in the nation will get sufficient rain to induce the best possible yields under the circumstances of 2020, and that should help keep a solid floor under what is left of this year’s production potential.

Argentina is an entirely different situation. Moisture shortages have been present in at least a part of the nation during most of the growing season. Early-planted corn and sunseed already are reproducing and doing so under duress because of moisture shortages. The early crop is not likely to get enough rain in the next couple of weeks to turn around its yield potential. The late season crops still have tremendous potential, but weather conditions must change immediately to provide enough time for crops to recover.

Typically, La Niña years are usually toughest on Argentina’s early crops with lower production occurring in nearly all cases. However, in some La Niña events, weather conditions improve just enough after the late crops are planted to support more favorable yields. That is what most producers have been hoping for. Field progress has advanced slowly, occurring in spurts following the greater rain events, but widespread aggressive planting has not occurred, which should result in a crop that will reproduce over multiple weeks with parts of the crop coming to maturity at different times. Because of that, some crops will yield better than others. But without a more general soaking soon, they will all suffer with lower yields.

Soil conditions recently have slipped into the short and very short categories in both the top and subsoil levels in large parts of Argentina’s key production areas. Early-planted crops already were stressed in late December and the odds of getting relief while reproduction is underway look poor. Soybeans, late-season corn, and peanuts have very little moisture to work with. Significant rain must begin falling immediately to support the most recently planted crops and the late double-cropped beans that usually follow wheat harvesting. The first half of January does not look good for a soaking rain to take place. That means it will be mid-month before there is much potential for significant improvement in soil moisture.

La Niña’s persistence suggests poor rain distribution likely will continue in the eastern part of the nation through the entire month of January. That does not mean a complete lack of precipitation, but it will continue to be sporadic and light at times. Some improved rainfall is expected in western and northern Argentina during the second half of January, and that should translate into a better environment for late season crops to develop. The bottom line for Argentina is one of additional potential for production loss during the first half of January and perhaps later into the month.

The good news for late season farmers in Argentina is that La Niña will begin an accelerated weakening trend in the second half of January and in February, and that should bring on some better-timed rain events that will be a little more supportive of late season crop development. However, some of this improved rain will fall rather late in the season, limiting the significance of a potential recovery.

Meanwhile, wheat production in Argentina has held up relatively well in recent weeks because of some timely rain events. The driest conditions evolved as the crop was maturing and beginning to be harvested, and that only expedited maturation and protected grain quality.

La Niña’s global impact

La Niña has had other impacts on wheat production areas around the world, most significantly in the central and southwestern Plains of the United States and in Russia’s southern region. Crops have been dormant in these regions for a while, and the ongoing dryness in some areas has not had much impact. There have been a few precipitation events as well, and they have either put some snow on the ground or a little moisture into the soil. That moisture eventually will support better crop development potential in the spring. Weakening La Niña in the latter part of winter and early spring should bring these areas more moisture to support crop improvements early in the growing season.

Meanwhile, China wheat is still rated favorably, and India will get some timely showers over the next few weeks that will support good production potential. European crops will come into spring with better soil moisture to help improve crops, as well. Thus, the potential for wheat problems in the spring of 2021 may decline — at least for a while.

Drew Lerner is senior agricultural meteorologist with World Weather, Inc. He may be reached at World Weather, Inc. forecasts and comments pertaining to present, past and future weather conditions included in this report constitute the corporation’s judgment as of the date of this report and are subject to change without notice.