The Pacific Ocean reminded agriculture in 2016 that its temperature changes take time. That lesson was brought home in a big way by the equatorial Pacific’s evolution from a very strong El Nino (warming trend that had been in place since the spring of 2015) to a weak and shaky La Nina (cool equator-region temperatures) in early autumn of 2016.
That was a much slower change than some elements of the ag weather world were calling for — not at DTN, by the way — and the lingering weather impact of El Nino allowed for not just trend-line yields, not just above-trend-line yields, but for new record production of both corn and soybeans in 2016.
The year did have its quirkiness. Late-spring cold snaps and hailstorms resulted either in slow crop development, or forced replanting of fields, especially in the Western Corn Belt. Very warm to hot weather in July and August meant that many farmers had to irrigate over a longer period of time than usual. Dry conditions in the Eastern Corn Belt compromised yield potential.
Then, just as the fall harvest season began, heavy rain in the northern Corn Belt stymied early progress. But, record or near-record warmth during the fall allowed for fields and crops to dry down; in the end, harvest was all but completely finished by late November and was more or less on schedule. The mild late fall also allowed farmers in Canada to overcome the effect of very-wet conditions in October, and almost entirely finish their harvest as well.
Was there any adverse weather impact on crops anywhere this past year? Well, yes, there was — in Brazil, where heat and dryness took a toll on soybeans to some extent, and on corn to a large extent. Brazil’s corn output was more than 20% below 2015. As the grain market realized this loss, U.S. corn prices moved to their highest levels of the calendar year for a short period of time in June.
The Europe wheat crop was also affected by heavy rain, and Europe corn production struggled due to hot and dry conditions in late summer. Neither of these problems, however, brought about significant loss to the total international grain pile.
As for the upcoming year, some areas of concern have formed in South America that raise the chance of a slight reduction in yields, particularly in soybeans.
Areas of concern are in northeastern Brazil where several stations have had less than 50% of normal rainfall for December. In Argentina, dry conditions in the southeastern growing areas may hinder production of double-crop soybeans, while in central Argentina, recent heavy, flooding rains threaten some acreage loss due to soils being too wet to plant.
Meanwhile, the U.S. growing season looks to get underway with Pacific Ocean temperatures at neutral, with no La Nina threat. This sets the stage for U.S. crop production in 2017 to reach either trend line, or come close, which would be the fifth consecutive year of large crop output.
Bryce Anderson can be reached at Bryce.firstname.lastname@example.org