El Niño fooled us in 2014, displaying signs of its return before fading into the late summer months. It seems to be here with a vengeance this year. The weather phenomenon is in full force and is a threat to crop production in the U.S. and abroad.
El Niño conditions are triggered by warming water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that couple with increased air surface pressure. An associated shift in trade wind intensities causes changes in weather patterns. The effects of El Niño vary according to the strength and timing of its occurrence.
There are weather anomalies occurring around the globe, some of which may be directly associated with El Niño. North America is generally soggy through its midsection and dry in the West. South America maintains favorable soil moisture levels in the North and is drier in the South. Conditions are better in the eastern half of Europe than in the West. Most of Asia is drier than normal.
Farmers in the U.S. are sometimes glad to see El Niño bring cooler temperatures during corn pollination. The phenomenon also can be associated with wet weather, which has been a detrimental theme for the U.S. this season. Californians will thank El Niño this winter if it provides some drought relief as is expected.
Australia and Asia get a lot of attention during El Niño years. Australian meteorologists are renowned for their predictive capabilities regarding El Niño, having developed a knack for forecasting the phenomenon out of necessity. Hot, dry weather can wreak havoc throughout the Australian Grain Belt. Parts of Asia can be on either extreme of the precipitation spectrum. Growers in India are monitoring a monsoon season that is not providing ample rains, for one example.
The Europeans suffered through a heat wave early in the summer that took the top end off of yield potentials. Record high temperatures have been recorded in the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Growers in Russia and Ukraine are worried that the heat will spread to their spring wheat regions.
Drought is an issue in central Argentina as wheat and barley is being planted. Growers there will hope that dry soils find relief before corn sowings are in full swing. Dry weather was a worry for Brazil last winter, but a reversal of fortunes has the country enjoying favorable growing conditions for the second corn crop.
Extreme weather patterns being experienced in some of the world’s major growing regions have been a bullish catalyst for some agricultural commodities recently. A premium has been attached to U.S. grains as a result of wet weather, while dry conditions have put a bid under commodities like European wheat and Asian palm oil.
Meteorologists are suggesting that this year’s El Niño could be one of the strongest in several decades. With an active El Niño upon us, look for the potential for some wacky world weather patterns to persist in 2016. El Niño could remain a bullish influence for crop prices if recent weather is any indication of future trend.
Joe Camp is the Risk Management Specialist at AgriVisor, LLC located in Bloomington, IL. He is a native of Paxton, IL.