KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, USA – Drought has returned to Mato Grosso, Brazil, just in time to hurt Safrinha corn yields during breeding. The water stress that was becoming widespread in the state at the end of April will be closely monitored for approximately three weeks. Meanwhile, the market is quickly focusing on North America where there is much talk of weather adversity.
The Brazilian situation is not good. The area affected is mainly Mato Grosso and Goias, but they collectively account for a large part of the second season harvest expected this year. Drought during breeding is never a good thing and yields go down. Just over half of the corn crop was reproducing in late April and the rest of the crop was expected to recur in the first half of May.
Topsoil moisture was rated as very short in many areas at the end of April, while subsoil moisture was rated as slightly adequate to short. Crop stress was present and increasing in the last 10 days of April, but production reductions could still be minimized by widespread showers and thunderstorms. There is potential for precipitation, but the monsoon rains have ended for the season, leaving mid-latitude frontal systems as the only method of bringing rain to the region.
Argentina has the potential to be colder than usual in May and this could send a cold air mass into southern Brazil and a frontal system into Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Parana and the Goias. Such a frontal system would bring precipitation to the region and could reverse the downward trend in yields.
However, no strong frontal systems were expected during the first 10 days of May. The longer it takes to obtain moisture in the Safrinha maize and cotton areas of Mato Grosso, the greater the yield loss. Most of the pollination will already be complete by the third week of May, and if significant rains have not occurred by then, most of the second season maize will have reduced yields. Some analysts have already cut the crop and further cuts are expected in the first half of the month.
Looming problems for North America
North America is the next major production area in the world vulnerable to weather in 2022 and any problems there, especially in the United States, could create food shortages and further drive up market prices.
Weather problems in North America have already evolved. The wheat and canola region of southwestern Canada is still far too dry while excessive April rainfall from North Dakota to Manitoba, Canada, kept most farmers out of their fields. The situation is unlikely to improve enough to carry out field work until mid-May.
Further south in the US Midwest, the Delta and the Tennessee River Basin, spring planting of rice and maize has been delayed by too much rain and cooler than usual temperatures. The wet environment peaked in the first week of May with little to no progress in many areas, but there is still time to improve the weather and get the plantings right. Meanwhile, the US hard red winter wheat areas are suffering from all kinds of adverse weather conditions and production is expected to be reduced.
Similar to this time last year, the drought is present from northern Mexico through most of the western half of the United States and across the southwestern Canadian Prairies. The drought was caused by a unique combination of mutually reinforcing weather conditions.
La Niña has been raging for 21 months and anytime it persists for that long, there is potential for drought in North America and possibly parts of Central Asia. The persistent presence of La Niña at this point in the 22-year solar cycle is often implicated in multi-year droughts and this drought has existed since 2020. Having a persistent La Niña in the 22-year solar cycle while the Pacific Decadal Oscillation ( PDO) is negative (meaning cooler than usual ocean waters off the west coast of North America and warm waters farther west) leads to strong summer ridge formation in central of the United States and which may extend north to Canada.
In the past, when these three major weather influences occurred at the same time and with significant intensity, the result was almost always drought for the American Plains and parts of the Midwest. Weather models don’t always have to have the same solution, but this combination of weather features has a bad reputation for negatively impacting agriculture and production.
Delayed planting in the western corn belt due to a wet start to spring followed by drought through the summer would not bode well for production in 2022, and until it there is a change in trend that ends this environment, the assumption is that at least part of the United States will run out of production. The debate concerns the determination of production losses, but it is still too early to have confidence in anything since the crops are not yet in the ground.
The impact of La Niña
Changes in weather influences are underway, increasing the potential for changes in North America, especially in the dry region of Canada. La Niña is reaching its maximum intensity and is expected to begin to weaken in May. This downward trend will continue in June. Meanwhile, the lingering effects of stratospheric warming that took place in March, bringing cold weather to North America in April, are also easing.
Reducing the influence of these events increases the potential for change in North America. However, the shift will be led by the negative phase of PDO, which promises to put a near-permanent trough of low pressure along or over western parts of North America.
The placement of a low pressure trough over western North America is forcing the shift of the fall, winter and early spring high pressure ridge from western North America. North America to the central parts of the continent. This program to relocate high pressure aloft will end recent wetter weather across the American Plains and western Corn Belt, although the weather change will not be complete until late May.
Meanwhile, while the American Plains and western Corn Belt tend to be drier and warmer due to the upper high pressure ridge, there will also be a change in Canada. Much of the prairies in southwestern Canada that have been drier than usual for years will have potential for relief as storm systems entering the northwestern United States are expected to move north- is in the Prairies, bringing frequent rains in July and August. Some of the improved precipitation will occur in June. Improved precipitation in Canada is expected to arrive in time to save many crops that were planted in dry spring soil and had to battle drought until June when the rains start more regularly.
The problems with weather and agricultural production in South America are on the way out, but chances are the problems in North America, especially the United States, are just beginning and could prolong our food inflation problems for another year.
Drew Lerner is Senior Agricultural Meteorologist at World Weather, Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]. World Weather, Inc.’s forecasts and commentary regarding present, past and future weather conditions included in this report constitute the judgment of the company as of the date of this report and are subject to change without notice.