GLOBAL- Forecast models predict a quick transition from La Niña to El Niño over several months this spring and summer, and could lead to weather problems in many areas worldwide, negatively affecting crop production.
According to World Weather, Inc., while the transition from La Niña to El Niño is advertised to be too aggressive, several areas globally could experience poor crop weather during the second half of this year.
The El Niño phenomenon is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific, sometimes causing crop damage, flash floods, or fires, while La Niña refers to the periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures across the east-central equatorial Pacific.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a model that predicts ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) conditions several months in time, and the latest forecast model suggests that El Niño may evolve in June and influence the world from July through the end of this calendar year.
The withdrawal of La Niña and the return of neutral ENSO conditions usually result in lighter-than-usual rainfall in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and parts of India.
Although the dryness is rarely a serious problem unless a full-blown El Niño event evolves, in the past, there have been some dryness issues when a moderately strong El Niño follows a prolonged La Niña.
There have only been a few occurrences of rapid transition from La Niña to El Niño after a prolonged La Niña event in the past, and 1976 was one of those years.
If the weather pattern for 2023 follows the 1976 trend, World Weather, Inc. believes the spring planting season will go well, but summer could trend too dry in some areas.
Hot dry weather to persist in Australia, Southeast Asia, and India
Australia, for example, produced record wheat crops for the last three years, thanks to higher-than-normal rainfall characteristic of the La Nina weather.
In 2023, a dry winter in central and western parts of Australia is sure to stress the wheat crop in the country and significantly reduce its export potential.
“If El Nino develops faster than what we are forecasting now, it could get much drier and warmer,” said Chris Hyde, a meteorologist at U.S.-based Maxar.
South Asia could experience similar effects on its crop production capacity, affecting palm oil and rice exports. However, despite the slightly below-normal precipitation in June-August, the region has ample soil moisture after heavy rains in recent months, which could reduce the potential for catastrophic results in crop production.
India, especially the northern and central parts, is already reporting a lack of moisture and is set for below-normal rains in the second half of the year, leaving the most-populous nation vulnerable to lower food output and potentially higher prices.
According to government officials, untimely rains and hailstorms could damage India’s key winter-sown crops, such as wheat, rapeseed, and chickpeas, just before harvesting begins for plants that have already suffered some heat stress.
“The region is facing drought, so even slightly below normal precipitation is likely to pose risk to crops,” Hyde added.
El Nino to favor American crops
While the El Nino weather could affect crop production adversely in the above-highlighted regions, the weather favors crops in North and South America.
For instance, the weather will likely favor the wheat crop in the USA.
“In the southern Plains, parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas in particular, those areas do tend to do a lot better, when it comes to rainfall, in an El Nino year,” Illinois state climatologist Trent Ford said.
Similarly, the ‘improved’ weather will favor crop production, especially soybean, in Argentina, which has been facing a historic drought brought on by the dry La Nina.
A similar trend is likely to characterize the weather in northeast China, with more precipitation favoring soybean production during El Nino.
USDA lowers world wheat supply forecasts
As highlighted above, it is interesting how weather phenomena affect different regions globally, collectively affecting the production potential of various crops.
For example in 2023, according to the US department of agriculture, factoring in possible weather changes, world wheat production will be 788.94 million tonnes; up 5.14 million tonnes from February and up 9.73 million tonnes from 779.21 million tonnes in 2021-22.
Moreover, production forecasts were raised for Argentina (up 400,000 tonnes, to 12.9 million), Australia (up 1 million tonnes, to 39 million), Brazil (up 500,000 tonnes, to 10.4 million), India (up 1 million tonnes, to 104 million) and Kazakhstan (up 2.4 million tonnes, to 16.4 million).