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December 18, 2015

Northeastern Brazil Suffering from Hot and Dry Weather

Farmers in northeastern Brazil are hoping for one thing this Christmas - significant rainfall and an end to the current prolonged period of hot and dry weather. The rainfall thus far this growing season in the states of western Bahia, Maranhao, Tocantins, and Piaui has been very irregular with no widespread generalized rains. Temperatures have also been above normal due to the lack of rainfall. As a result, the soybeans in the region are being planted at least 20 days later than normal with many farmers reporting poor germination and low plant populations. In western Bahia for example, 10% of the soybeans have not yet been planted while farmers wait for rainfall.

The weather has been similar all across central Brazil in recent months and it is being blamed on the strong El Nino in the Pacific Ocean. The good news is that meteorologists in Brazil are forecasting improved chances of rainfall in the region starting the middle of next week. The bad news is that the volume of the rainfall is still expected to be below normal. Light rains would help of course, but widespread heavy rains would be needed to recharge the soil moisture.

According to the Farmer and Irrigators Association of Bahia (Aba), the soybean acreage in Bahia is expected to be 1.55 million hectares, which is up 130,000 hectares from last year. The increased soybean acreage is coming at the expense of less corn and cotton acreage. The state of Bahia is the sixth largest soybean producing state in Brazil.

January will be the most important month for soybeans in Bahia because that is when the crop will start to set pods and fill pods. Hot and dry conditions during pod filling can result in significant yield reductions. Unfortunately, meteorologists in Brazil are forecasting a blocking pattern in the atmosphere to result in a 10-15 day period of dry weather during January. A similar dry period occurred during the last two growing seasons and Brazilians even have a name for this phenomena, it is called "veranicos" in Portuguese.

The meteorologists are not expecting more widespread heavy rains in western Bahia until in February. If heavy rainfall does not arrive until February, soybean yields in northeastern Brazil could end up being disappointing.