El Niño Signals Slightly Smaller Crop Potential in 2019

Posted on 03/15/2019 3:17 PM

Weather forecasters see elevated risks for planting delays and lower yield potential for corn and soybeans after four years of record or near-record output.

World Weather: Delayed planting followed by dry finish

U.S. weather currently tops World Weather President Drew Lerner’s list of agricultural production risks for 2019.

The El Niño weather pattern strengthened recently, which means a wetter bias into next month from the Southern Plains into the lower Mississippi River and Tennessee River Basins, with some bouts of heavy rain in the southern Midwest. The Northern Plains and Midwest should see less precipitation until the second half of April and May when rains will return. Temperatures will run near to below normal across the Midwest and Northern Plains, leading to a slow snow melt.

By the time drier weather returns to the South in the second half of April, it will be getting too late to seed some crops in a timely fashion. Much of the Midwest and Northern Plains will fight planting delays. Seeds will eventually get planted and the early summer growing season may prove to be about average with no widespread excessive heat. The bigger concern is for a dry finish that trims corn and soybean yields.

A weakening El Niño and colder Pacific Ocean temperatures off the West Coast by midsummer could trigger a dry pattern across parts of the Midwest and Northern Plains, cutting yields from the average of the past three years. The 18-year lunar cycle is also calling for a drier 2019 summer.

China is the second weather risk area to watch this summer, Lerner said. Dry conditions already prevail in the North China Plain and the pattern may move into the northeast, raising corn, soybeans and peanut yield risks.

Radiant Solutions: Late planting but normal summer

Seasonally rising temps and drier-biased weather in April and May should allow farmers in the Midwest and Delta to complete planting after the initial delay from snow and saturated soils, says Don Keeney of Radiant. A wet April and May across the Central Plains will aid winter wheat crops.

Keeney forecasts an average or slightly cooler summer with near-normal rainfall in much of the central United States. Drier trends and lower yields may prevail in parts of Nebraska and Kansas and up into the northwest.

There are rising risks for dryness in west Europe and parts of Ukraine and Russia. Dryness may extend into the summer, cutting corn, oilseed and spring wheat yield potential.

CWG: Slow planting, drier risk in northwest Corn Belt

Record precip across the Northern Plains and Midwest from September to February and record cold in January and February guarantees planting will be delayed, says Joel Widenor at the Commodity Weather Group. Warmer temps are likely to return by late March and continue slightly warmer to near normal into April. Warmer temps may be accompanied by slightly drier weather for much of the Plains and Midwest the next 30 days, but it will stay wet across much of the South from Texas to the Carolinas.

The strengthening El Niño conditions will promote a slightly drier, warmer bias into the second half of April. If the equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures begin to cool next month, leading to a weaker El Niño, that will likely mean a wet May and more significant delays.

Flooding is likely from the Red River Valley south to Louisiana as warmer temps melt snow and rains persist in April across the southern half of the central U.S. In 1993, the year of record widespread Midwest flooding, the El Niño strengthened into May before weakening and producing widespread flooding from June through August. This year, flooding will not be as severe, but it could be an issue depending on El Niño’s intensity/duration.

The summer does have a drier signal for Canada, the Northern Plains and into the western Midwest. Yield potential in 2019 will be down from the past three years, but there should be no widespread problems.

The biggest risks outside of the U.S. this summer will be dry weather in Russia, Ukraine and northeast China. Another month of dry, warm weather in North Africa could cut wheat yields at least 15%, Widenor says. 

WeatherTiger: Wet spring abates in Midwest, not Delta

The pattern that brought widespread snow and rain to the Midwest and Northern Plains is changing, according to Ryan Truchelut, president of Weather Tiger. Drier and warmer weather through April will allow planting progress to get caught up by early May. However, farms from Arkansas to the Carolinas will stay wet, increasing delays.

The summer looks slightly warmer than normal with no extended periods of excessive rain or heat.

The excessively wet weather this winter across southern China and extremely dry conditions in northern China probably need to change by mid-April to reduce the chances for below-normal crop yield potential.

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