After back-to-back droughts, Argentine growers could have a record harvest of soybeans and corn next season as the La Niña weather phenomenon makes way for El Niño, one of the country's best-known forecasters anticipated.
Eduardo Sierra - the University of Buenos Aires climatologist who accurately predicted that drought would stunt crops this season - said Argentina's 2012/13 soy crop could exceed the record 52.7 million tons gathered two years ago in another El Niño year.
Argentina is the world's second-biggest corn exporter after the United States and the No. 3 soybean supplier, meaning global grains traders keep a close eye on the weather in the vast Pampas farm belt.
This year El Niño will come into play Sierra said in an interview. If this happens and we have good rains starting in October, it's likely that there will be record production of corn and soybeans in the 2012/13 season.
El Niño which causes a warming of surface waters of the Pacific Ocean and dramatically affects the weather worldwide tends to bring rains to South America.
El Niño's counterpart, La Niña, brought dryness to Argentina for a second consecutive year this season, parching fields in December and January before heavy rains brought relief to some crops in February.
When La Niña strikes for two consecutive years, crops are harder hit in the second year because water reserves deep in the soils are already depleted. That helps explain why Argentina managed to gather a record corn crop of 23 million tonnes in the 2010/11 planting season, which followed the last El Niño year.
Original estimates of another record harvest this season were dashed by the dryness. Few industry analysts now expect the crop to reach 22 million tons. The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange forecasts 2011/12 soy production at 46.2 million tons and a corn harvest of 21.3 million tons.
Sierra, whose forecasts are closely tracked by local farmers, said weather patterns have oscillated in three year cycles since the start of the century. He expects that cycle to continue in the coming years with every two La Niña years followed by one El Niño.
The 2012/13 crop should be very good said Sierra, who is also a climate adviser for the Buenos Aires exchange. In 2013/14, it will be more OK, because there will still be some water in soils (to protect them from La Niña-related dryness).
The 2014/15 season is expected to be poor because there will be a second La Niña, he added.
Weather forecasts are closely watched by the Economy Ministry and bondholders in Argentina, which gets about a quarter of its export income from soy alone. Taxes on grains shipments represent about 10% of state revenue.
With the recent drought behind them, Argentine farmers' biggest concern could be frost as the Southern Hemisphere winter approaches, Sierra said. Frosty night-time weather could start as early as this month.
Early-planted 2011/12 soy - sown in October and November of last year - was hurt by the drought in December and early January, prompting some farmers to plant later.
This helped protect some soy from the dryness, but it pushed the cycle deeper into the year, raising the threat of frost, Sierra said.
Sierra said he expects 20 million to 21 million tons of corn to be brought in this season, in line with many private estimates. The outlook for soybeans, especially those planted late, is better.
There's still plenty of time left in the current season. In recent years, late-seeded fields have been affected by frost he added. If we don't get frost and all the late-seeded fields can take advantage of the rain, we could see 48 million tons of 2011/12 soy. If we start getting frost in late March then that could be cut to 40 million tons.”