Wild swings in South America weather in recent weeks has kept traders, forecasters and producers on their toes, but the anticipated crop from both Brazil and Argentina is still expected to be big. Production will not likely be a record from either Brazil or Argentina because of recent changing conditions, but Brazil’s crop still will be large unless the recent northeast dryness expands and prevails beyond mid-January.

Argentina’s weather has swung most wildly this growing season. Torrential rain in the midst of the planting season caused serious flooding in southeastern Cordoba, northwestern Buenos Aires and neighboring areas in La Pampa, raising fears that the planting season would never be completed and that production cuts would be huge. That episode of excessive rain and flooding occurred in the last days of October and the
“doom and gloomers” were predicting there would be no chance to get the crop planted, but that excessive rain event was followed by a few weeks of limited rain and warm temperatures. The ground eventually firmed up and some new planting and replanting took place, restoring a fair amount of the production potential for 2017.

The drier weather in November and early December festered a little too long, however, and created some stress for early planted grain and oilseeds. Market predictions of tremendous losses were still incorrect because cool nighttime temperatures helped to give stressed crops adequate rest during the peak of the stressful period, which lasted about a week to 10 days. A little stress is good for crops, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Some of the driest areas in Argentina were pushing that limit and a little yield potential was lost in mid-December because of dryness, especially for early reproducing crops.

Late December pulled Argentina out the precipitation hole that it fell into. Subsoil moisture was running short and topsoil moisture was exhausted when rain evolved in late December. Nearly 10 days of frequent rain fell over the heart of corn and soybean country resulting in a serious restoration of soil moisture. Topsoil conditions were saturated by the end of the Christmas holiday and additional rain thereafter brought subsoil moisture up to adequate levels by New Year’s Day. The restoration of subsoil moisture has put Argentina crops back into a good position of being able to handle a period of warm dry mid-summer weather. Enough soil moisture was present in the heart of corn, soybean, peanut, sorghum and sunseed country to carry crops about two weeks without a drop of water. That is extremely important as mid-January approaches, marking the near halfway point in the summer season. Two weeks of moisture reserve will get crops to the end of January without much trouble and that assumes no rain will fall after mid-month, which seems a little doubtful given the active weather pattern that is prevailing.

Argentina has lost production potential and it would be irresponsible for this meteorologist to imply all is well. The nation’s Vegetative Health Index deteriorated quite a bit in December and even though crop improvement is under way, some of the early corn and sunseed suffered irreversible losses. Soybeans, being the smarter of the grain and oilseed crops, can (and likely did) take a little break in development when weather and soil conditions get too dry and warm. The crop then surges forward when rain evolves and that is exactly what should be taking place in Argentina today.

As of Dec. 29, 73% of the corn crop had been planted compared to 78% last year. The delay was the result of poor planting conditions earlier in December. That barrier to planting should be down now and fieldwork should advance more swiftly as soon as fields dry sufficiently to support farm equipment. Peanut planting was 98% completed on Dec. 29 while soybean planting was 83% done compared to 87% in the previous year. Sorghum planting was 74% done while wheat harvesting was 84% completed.

With nearly 25% of the corn and sorghum crop still left to be planted, higher production is still possible since the late crop could yield well if rainfall is timely in the second half of summer.

January critical for Brazil

Meanwhile, Brazil had almost ideal weather from October through December. The crop was poised to be tremendous in size but a little late-year trouble began to evolve, raising some doubt that the nation could produce another record crop. However, looking at the data at the end of December it was obvious that most of Brazil’s key grain and oilseed areas had not yet been seriously impacted with threatening dryness, despite a definite downtrend in both precipitation and soil moisture in the northeast.

Brazil’s most important production areas are in Mato Grosso, Goias, Sao Paulo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul. These areas had mostly missed dryness that developed in late December. The dryness was most concentrated on Bahia and some neighboring areas of Goias, Tocantins, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo. A complete crop failure, which is highly unlikely, in Bahia would cost Brazil 4% of its soybean and 4% of its corn crop. Northern Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo do not produce many soybeans and only a small amount of corn. The most important summer crop region in Goias is in the south and east-central parts of the state, and neither have been hurting for moisture recently. Collectively, it is hard to find a way to make all of the moisture-troubled areas in Brazil hurt production by more than 4%, which is a big number.

Certainly, if dryness continues to expand in northeastern Brazil there is potential for a larger slice of the Brazilian grain and oilseed pie to be given up. There is reason to believe that precipitation in Brazil may continue lighter than usual for another couple of weeks, and if that proves to be correct Brazil will see its large crop whittled down a bit more.

World Weather, Inc. does not see Brazil losing as much as it did last year when second-season crops were stressed into yielding poorly. First, the Vegetative Health Index for Brazil crops is far better than it was last year at this time, suggesting it will take longer for the nation’s crops to become stressed enough to seriously hurt production potentials. Second, the forecast still offers a better finish to the growing season than what is prevailing across the nation today.

Production in Brazil was once expected to be near a record because of La Niña conditions. La Niña is abating and that support for rain is now waning. The lack of La Niña conditions may lead to more late-season dryness than was expected previously, but only in northeastern Brazil. The remainder of the nation is expected to continue receiving timely rainfall to maintain a very good outlook for center-west and southern crops.

The bottom line is that conditions in Argentina have swung a little too wildly this spring and early summer to produce a huge crop. However, with a fair amount of crop still unplanted and the potential for some replanting, the situation is certainly not set in stone. With that said, it would still be surprising for Argentina to come in with a huge corn or sunseed crop. Soybeans might still do well, but much of that potential will be determined by weather in the next several weeks. In the case of Brazil, the outlook is not as ideal as it was earlier this summer and the perfect production year may not come to fruition, but much about the nation’s production will be decided in the next few weeks.